Metis make milestone

1208met!A milestone has been reached by the Metis of the South Slave, including Hay River.

On July 31, a land and resources agreement-in-principle was signed between the Northwest Territory Metis Nation, the federal government and the GNWT.

The three sides began negotiating almost 20 years ago.

“We’ve been doing this since 1996,” said Fort Resolution’s Garry Bailey, the president of the Northwest Territory Metis Nation. “We’ve been trying to get our rights defined within the Northwest Territories and take our rightful place in Canada. It’s a big milestone because we actually have the commitment from both governments – the GNWT and the federal government – committing to finalizing an agreement with the Metis.”

The agreement-in-principle deals with various matters, including harvesting of wildlife, fish, trees and plants, national parks, protected areas, subsurface resources, mineral royalty sharing and economic measures.

Karen Lafferty, president of theHay River Metis Government Council, echoed its importance.

“We are on our way to finalize a land and resources agreement for the indigenous Metis which will define our rights within our agreement area,” Lafferty said. “It will give certainty to our people and governments, and will define our relationships and how we manage our territory. It is an historic step for the Metis people in moving forward with the goal of self-determination.”

The signing enables all three governments to move forward to a final agreement. Those further negotiations will also address self-government, as well as ensure clarity over the ownership, use and management of land and resources, economic measures, implementation of the agreement, dispute resolution, sub-surface resources and other issues.

The agreement-in-principle, which is not legally binding, will serve as the foundation for the negotiations of the final land and resources agreement.

Bailey said it could take two or three years to get to a final agreement.

“It’s what’s to be expected, I imagine, with dealing with a lot of other lawyers,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of lawyers working for Canada.”

Bailey said land selection will also have to happen for a final agreement.

“So that takes a little while to make sure that we get the lands that we’re after,” he said. “We have to have our governing structures in place, which means our nation has to get along, as well. It’s always tough when there’s money involved.”

According to a news release from the federal government, the Northwest Territory Metis Nation would receive $69.4 million and 25,194 square kilometres of land to be owned in fee simple under a final agreement.

The members of the Northwest Territory Metis Nation will vote on a final agreement prior to it being approved by the GNWT and the federal government.

“This Northwest Territory Metis Nation Agreement-in-Principle on Land and Resources is a concrete step toward realizing economic growth and investment opportunities for the benefit of aboriginal groups,” said federal Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt in a news release.

Also in a news release, Premier Bob McLeod, who is also the minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Intergovernmental Relations for the GNWT, said the agreement-in-principle is an “important step” toward clarifying land and resource ownership and wildlife harvesting rights for the Metis of the South Slave.

The agreement-in-principle was actually initialed by negotiators in 2012, and was accepted by a Metis Nation assembly in November of that year.

However, the federal government and the GNWT then took it to consultations with aboriginal groups, and that will continue as part of final agreement negotiations.

The exact number is still to be determined by an enumeration, but it is believed there are about 2,300 people eligible to be members of the Northwest Territory Metis Nation, which represents Metis councils in Hay River, Fort Smith and Fort Resolution.