Both the Northwest Territory Métis Nation and Kátł’odeeche First Nation (KFN) agree that they need to sit down and talk about land that may or may not be a shared traditional territory, but that meeting has yet to happen.
In late November, the Métis erected a small billboard at the junction of Highways 2 and 5 on land that falls within the First Nation’s traditional territory boundary, prompting the First Nation to call a press conference about how the land had been theirs for generations.
The Métis say they are descendants of the Kátł’odeeche, and they have just as much right to benefit from the area.
KFN says when the First Nation signed Treaty 8 in 1900, the Métis were living in Akaitcho Territory, not in the territory now in question.
“As KFN we made treaty with Canada back in 1900. That treaty was an affirmation that we were going to share the land with Canada ... and that’s who we have a relationship with,” said advisor Roy Fabian at last week's press conference.
“Canada has an obligation to project us, based on fiduciary responsibility they took on when they signed the treaty.
“If anyone else wants to claim our land, they have no right, this is between us and Canada.”
'We need to respect each other'
When reached by phone, Northwest Territory Métis Nation (NWTMN) president Garry Bailey said the Métis are also busy talking to Canada in hopes that within the next year their final agreement – “the first treaty for Métis people” – will be signed.
Kátł’odeeche says if Canada is going negotiate a land claim with the Métis, then it needs to be at that table.
Councillor Doug Lamalice added, “This land, like any land, is the creator’s land ... we had our ways since forever.
“My personal feeling is if you want to deal with people the best way to come and sit with them, eat with them, talk to them, and come to understanding.”
Again, Bailey had a similar comment when he said NWTMN would “eventually” talk to Kátł’odeeche “when the time is right.”
When asked what time that would be, he said: "Whenever they want to talk, we can definitely have a talk. It's just a matter of scheduling.
“I just want them to be comfortable and know that we're not trying to threaten what they have. It's got nothing to do with that at all.”
Both sides made clear that they want to get along, despite not telling each other that directly.
“As Dene people our relationship with other people is important to us and we need to respect each other and our traditional territories,” said Fabian.
“I’m not saying they don’t have rights, I'm just saying we have rights to our own land.”
Bailey says the Métis boundary, which covers most of the South Slave region as well as all of Great Slave Lake, is “actually a small boundary when you look at the whole traditional territory and the traditional history of the Métis people ... we utilized the territory all the way up to Great Bear Lake.
"We're definitely not trying to take anything away from Kátł’odeeche. We harvest throughout the whole territory, it's our traditional territory.
"We've been here as long as they have; we're descendants from them. We have the same blood going through our veins.
"They signed the treaty, but that doesn't mean they take our rights away because they did that,” Bailey said, alleging that nearly 120 years ago, when KFN signed Treaty 8, the Métis weren’t consulted.
“They have to acknowledge that we are people with inherent rights.”
Bailey said even if NWTMN were not negotiating an agreement with Canada, he still would have put up a sign.
“I don't need an agreement to have a territory. I have an inherent right and I have a history," he said.
"It's more of us taking our rightful place and letting people know that we are here. Our people can have some comfort and say, ‘We have a home. This is our home.’”
The Métis National Council (MNC) also released a homelands map last week which dips into the South Slave, although President Clément Chartier said that map is more notional in nature and may in fact stretch too far north.
Meanwhile, the NWT Métis Nation's map stretches well beyond the eastern shores of Great Slave Lake – well above the MNC's suggested boundary. Chartier said if the NWT Métis are also citizens of the historic Métis nation as MNC members are, then the maps should line up.
As to the NWT Métis Nation putting up a sign in the South Slave, Chartier, who represents provincial Métis nations in Ontario and westward, said, "The Métis community does have the right. We've done that in northern Saskatchewan, we've done that in Manitoba ... and that's legitimate. We've coexisted on these lands.
"There's no hierarchy in rights. Treaty rights don't trump Métis rights."
Following the press conference, Kátł'odeeche's chief and council decided to leave the dispute for the time being and "wait for a meaningful response from Canada and the [Government of the Northwest Territories] regarding KFN's concerns about the proposed NWTMN agreement boundary," according to a spokesperson.