In recent years, the Ontario government and the Metis people have signed several significant agreements under a new partnership. Lori Sterling, Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs (MAA), and Gary Lipinski, president of the Metis Nation of Ontario (MNO), spoke with ministry senior writer Judy Embleton.
How did the MNO and the MAA get where you are today?
Lori Sterling: When the MAA was created in 2007, we did a lot of work up front with the MNO to build capacity. We provided annual core funding and seconded ministry staff to help with intergovernmental relations. Our subsequent talks led to a true partnership and a historic 2008 framework agreement that formally recognizes the MNO’s important role in representing Metis citizens in Ontario.
Gary Lipinski: We’re also partnering to build understanding of Metis history and culture. More than 70,000 Metis people live in Ontario. So the government recognized 2010 as the Year of the Metis, which commemorated the 125th anniversary of the Northwest Rebellion and celebrated Metis contributions to Canada.
What else have Ontario and the MNO accomplished together?
Sterling: In June, Ontario and the MNO announced the Metis Voyageur Development Fund. It’s an independent, Metis-controlled economic development corporation. The Ontario government has committed up to $30 million over 10 years to support Metis business.
Lipinski: The fund represents years of hard work and effort by many people at the MNO to create an economic development arm. It’s similar to other corporations operated by Metis in western Canada. Metis business people operating, or proposing to operate, in a resource sector such as mining, energy, renewable energy or forestry will be eligible to apply.
Sterling: Another important part of the framework agreement with the MAA is the New Relationship Fund (NRF). It is helping the MNO and its member communities hire staff, collect traditional Metis knowledge and get technical training. In 2010-11, the MNO received $2.1 million through the NRF to facilitate consultations between the Metis and Ontario.
Lipinski: Our framework agreement also underlines the importance of Metis education. In 2008, the Ministry of Education signed a memorandum of understanding with the MNO, agreeing to address the unique education needs of Metis students, close achievement gaps and raise awareness of Metis history.
Sterling: The following year, the MNO and the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities signed an agreement to work together to improve postsecondary education, training and employment outcomes for Metis people. And earlier this year, Dr. Brenda Macdougall began her duties at the University of Ottawa as the first Chair of Metis Studies. The role of the chair is to increase research and create more understanding of the Metis people.
The MAA won a United Nations Public Service Award this year, first place in North America and Europe.
Sterling: The award recognizes our efforts and commitment to build stronger, more positive, more collaborative relationships with Aboriginal people. It is really an award that celebrates the work of many Ontario ministries. And we are honoured that Aboriginal leaders, including Gary, nominated us.
Lipinski: In my nomination letter, I said our progress together would not have been possible without the commitment of the public servants at the ministry to building trust. Their skill and enthusiasm sets an exceptionally high standard for others to follow.
What advice you can offer to others in public service who want to forge a productive partnership?
Sterling: I believe we’ve accomplished so much because both partners are motivated to work together to improve the lives of the Metis people in Ontario. There was a great deal of collegiality at the tables that negotiated agreements. We set ambitious timelines to reach our goals. There was also the political will to achieve progress.
Lipinski: I can say that the Metis are determined people. My advice is to persevere and trust that your partners share your goals. Trust strengthens your partnership and helps to reach those goals faster.
What’s ahead for the MNO and the MAA?
Lipinski: We have many more ideas about what we want to achieve together for the Metis people of Ontario. For example, we are now working on a Metis community research agenda in a tripartite relationship with both Ontario and Canada. It will require joint decision-making. It’s a true test of the commitment to our MAA-MNO relationship.
Sterling: This project is a first in Canada. The goal is to identify where Metis communities are in Ontario through joint research. The project embodies the principle of reconciliation that we are striving to achieve.
Lipinski: And it is better for all of Ontario to have a strong and proud Metis people.