Members of the Northwest Territory Metis Nation gathered in Hay River last week for their annual general assembly to discuss topics ranging from internal finances to mining developments to potential solutions for self-government.
“This was really the first time the general membership got to see some of the ideas we have been playing with,” said Hay River Metis Council president Wally Schumann in reference to workshops held on different self-government options. “There are lots of different opinions. We have to try to find the most democratic system and go with that.”
The annual general assembly brought together around 100 delegates from Hay River, Fort Smith and Fort Resolution for a three-day conference from Nov. 19-21 – the longest assembly they have held, according to Schumann.
Self-government workshops were the highlight of the first day, with the second day devoted to an internal financial review and resolutions. The event was rounded off by a visit from the premier and some of his cabinet ministers on Nov. 21.
“We look forward to continued partnerships moving forward,” said Premier Bob McLeod. “And I am pleased to see our two governments are committed to negotiations.”
With the implementation of the devolution agreement on the horizon, McLeod also thanked the Northwest Territory Metis Nation for its support as a signatory and promised continued efforts to increase aboriginal employment within the territorial government itself.
“We want to maximize benefits for all northerners,” he said. “The stats show improvement (to the number of aboriginal employees in government), but more work needs to be done.”
Environment and Natural Resources Minister Michael Miltenberger and Health and Social Services Minister Glen Abernethy were joined at the meeting by Tom Beaulieu, now minister of Transportation and Human Resources.
Delegates grilled the ministers and premier on multiple subjects, with environmental protection coming to the fore in the wake of the coal sludge spill in Alberta travelling towards Great Slave Lake.
Miltenberger maintained that the plume, set to cross into the NWT through the Slave River in early December, is most likely to dissipate enough by the time it reaches the territory to not pose any threat. He also emphasized the importance of water monitoring, citing stations set up in Fort Smith and Fort Resolution.
Fort Smith was supposed to have been the host for this year’s annual assembly, but when hotels in the community fell through, the gathering reverted to its usual location in Hay River.
Schumann said the hub is one of the few places with enough hotel rooms to accommodate a gathering of more than 100 people.
“It’s great for Hay River,” he said. “It means more people coming into our community and visiting the local businesses, restaurants and hotels.”
But apart from economic factors, the meeting served to unite a group with widespread membership and concerns.
While Schumann hopes the path towards self-government will take less time than it has in other northern jurisdictions, he said that it’s really up to the people.
“The people have to own their constitution,” he said. “The board of executives can come up with the plans, but the people have to ratify it and it has to belong to them.”
– Sarah Ladik