What was a milestone for one Métis group of the Northwest Territories has become an alleged roadblock for another.
On July 31, the NWT Métis Nation (NWTMN), whose members mostly reside in the South Slave region, celebrated the signing of an Agreement-in-Principle (AiP) with the territorial and federal governments, bringing them one step closer to a land and resources deal.
But now, president Bill Enge of the North Slave Métis Alliance (NSMA), whose members live mainly to the north and east of Great Slave Lake, has spoken out against the agreement, stating that its language is problematic in multiple ways. As a result, the group has decided to file a lawsuit in an attempt to put a halt to the NWTMN’s negotiations.
“At this stage, the North Slave Métis Alliance leadership has no choice but to file a lawsuit against the Crown’s decision to forge ahead with the Agreement-in-Principle the way it is designed, in terms of its intent to extinguish the section 35 Aboriginal rights of the Métis of the NSMA,” Enge said. “We are busy putting together a lawsuit right now and we have to have our lawsuit filed before or by Aug. 30. We’re going to challenge this thing in court as far as it needs to go.”
Enge referred to the section of the Constitution Act of 1982, which affirms and recognizes the existing Aboriginal and treaty rights of First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples of Canada, without defining those rights.
There are several points from the AiP that disturb Enge and his fellow members.
The first is the AiP’s definition of what makes a person Métis. Instead of using the Powley Test definition – used across the country following a precedent-setting case – the AiP definition covers any Aboriginal person of Cree, Slavey or Chipewyan ancestry who resided in, used and occupied any part of the agreement area, which covers much of the region to the south and east of Great Slave Lake, on or before Dec. 31, 1921.
“That definition is so broad,” Enge said. “It captures any Aboriginal person who has one of those three ancestral lineages. By virtue of it being an Indian ancestry-based definition, it is contrary to the common laws of Canada for determining which Métis have Aboriginal rights. This definition calls for the Métis in the NWT with ancestry to be sucked into that land claim without their knowledge or consent. We are effectively being frog-marched into this agreement.”
Members of the NWTMN have spoken out against this claim in the media, stating that membership within their government is optional.
The Journal made several attempts to reach NWTMN president Garry Bailey for comment, unsuccessfully.
But Enge said the language in the agreement does not make membership optional and, in fact, enforces it. Looking at sections 2.3.1. and 2.5.1. of the AiP, it states that a Final Agreement “will affect” the Aboriginal rights of all the individuals “eligible” to be enrolled.
In addition to taking away the autonomy of NSMA members, Enge said the agreement actually cancels out some of their existing rights.
“The NSMA fought tooth and nail against the government of the Northwest Territories for four and a half years for Aboriginal rights to harvest caribou on the north side of Great Slave Lake,” he said.
With the agreement and the boundaries it provides, NSMA members allege they would effectively have their hunting rights on grounds extinguished upon a NWTMN Final Agreement.
Akaitcho First Nations speak out
The NSMA are not the only group opposing the AiP.
Since 2012, the Akaitcho Dene First Nations have had an ongoing court challenge to put a halt to the NWTMN’s AiP. Both indigenous groups are in land claim negotiations over territories that overlap.
In their opposition to the agreement, the Akaitcho have said the NWTMN includes those who have no Aboriginal or treaty rights in the NWT as well as non-status Dene – like Metis living in Fort Resolution – who do have existing rights.
“The federal government signed this AiP on the eve of dropping the writ for a general election, knowing full well that we have a court proceeding underway to determine whether signing the AiP is in accordance with Canada’s duty to consult and the honour of the Crown,” said Chief Felix Lockhart of the Lutsel K’e Dene First Nation, a member of the Akaitcho.
The Akaitcho First Nations have announced they will be requesting a meeting with the new federal government as soon as possible following the coming election, to explain their position and ask for a suspension of the NWTMN negotiation as their own case proceeds.
Enge said he had hoped he would not need to sue the government or the NWTMN, but said he believes the NSMA was not properly consulted during the process, and sees no other way to be heard.
“We were not adequately or even at all accommodated during the so-called consultation process,” he said. “We had two meetings with the government of Canada and the government of the NWT and we raised those issues with them to no avail. As far as we’re concerned, they were putting on a dog and pony show to let us vent off issues and then they did what they had planned to do all along anyway.”2 comments