North Slave Métis settle caribou lawsuit with GNWT

North Slave Métis settle caribou lawsuit with GNWT
From left, NSMA members Alan Harman Jr., Scott Harman and father Alan Harman Sr. hunt Bluenose-East caribou on the Grandin River near Whati in March, where four NSMA members harvested 23 caribou.Trevor Dixon Bennett.

The North Slave Métis Alliance (NSMA) says it has begun “a new relationship” with the government of the Northwest Territories following the settlement of a longstanding court battle over their right to hunt caribou.

Environment and Natural Resources (ENR) Minister Michael Miltenberger recently sent a letter to NSMA president Bill Enge, promising the Métis an “equitable allocation” of tags for the struggling Bathurst herd, should the herd’s population rebound enough to once again allow for a limited Aboriginal harvest.

“We look forward to building a new relationship with NSMA as we manage these difficult decisions and work towards the long-term sustainability of this important resource,” Miltenberger concluded.

Enge said it’s the first time NSMA members will have had access to the herd since harvesting restrictions were first implemented in 2010. Since then, only the Tlicho Government and Yellowknives Dene have been given limited tags to harvest Bathurst caribou, prompting Enge to launch an NWT Supreme Court challenge seeking equal access.

“This is the result of close to five years of legal battles with ENR,” Enge said of the recent turn of events. “What we see going down the road now is a new relationship, a government-to-government relationship.”

Though a total ban was placed on the Bathurst herd this season, 15 bulls were allotted each Aboriginal group for ceremonial purposes, under which NSMA was handed tags.

The NSMA was also included among the list of Aboriginal governments granted access to the 1,800 tags available for hunting the neighbouring Bluenose-East herd, which was recently brought under stricter harvesting limits due to declining numbers and increased hunting pressures.

Under the allocation policy for the 2014-15 season, NSMA is allowed 50 Bluenose-East tags. From Mar. 16 to 20, four NSMA members ventured northeast of Whati on the Grandin River to harvest 23 Bluenose-East caribou.

Enge said NSMA members are excited to be able to hunt caribou in the North Slave once again.

“The Métis were denied their Aboriginal right to hunt a traditional part of their diet, and our people suffered greatly because of it,” he said. “So this is a very great day for us.”

Canada should follow suit: Enge

While the recent about-face has only concerned caribou, Enge expects the government’s recognition of NSMA members’ Aboriginal harvesting rights is a good omen for the alliance in its attempts to secure a land claim negotiating table with the federal government.

Canada turned down NSMA’s latest request to begin negotiations, stating that the NSMA is not a distinct Aboriginal government with indigenous ties to the North Slave, instead recommending its members join other tables, like the ongoing NWT Métis Nation process or the existing Tlicho Government claim.

But the fact that NSMA was given its own set of tags separate from the NWT Métis Nation and other Aboriginal groups supports its claim to the area as a distinct cultural entity, Enge said, and its asserted Aboriginal right to harvest in the North Slave.

“What this does is clearly demonstrate that the North Slave Métis Alliance is not represented by the NWT Métis Nation,” he said. “We’re a separate entity.”

In the future, Enge hopes the GNWT will also be more inclusive of the NSMA when deciding on resource development projects in the North Slave. Though the NSMA has been included in impact benefit negotiations with various mining companies, Enge said that was done voluntarily by industry rather than prompted by the GNWT.

“What we expect with this government-to-government relationship is it will then require the GNWT to consult and accommodate whenever someone is contemplating development on our traditional lands,” Enge said.

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