A file photo of an earlier sign erected by South Slave Métis groups in Fort Smith, protesting Métis expulsion from Wood Buffalo National Park. Sarah Pruys/Cabin Radio
The Northwest Territory Métis Nation (NWTMN) plans to put up signs outside Hay River, Fort Smith, and Fort Resolution, identifying the land as its traditional territory.
But the Kátł’odeeche First Nation (KFN) isn’t impressed with the decision to erect one of the signs at the junction of Highways 2 and 5 – the turn-off outside Hay River toward Fort Smith and Fort Resolution.
In a recent press release issued by Chief Roy Fabian and council, KFN stated, “When KFN signed Treaty 8 in 1900 with respect to these areas, the ancestors of the NWTMN were living in and occupying the Akaitcho Territory, not the KFN Traditional Territory.”
KFN claims the Kátł’odeh (Hay River) corridor, Kátł’odeeche (Hay River Delta), Ejıé Túé (Buffalo Lake), and Ejıé Túé Dehé (Buffalo River) have been KFN traditional territory “since time immemorial.”
But Garry Bailey, president of the NWTMN, said, “Our people harvested all over the Northwest Territories, they have traditional territories all over. Our people are from the two communities [Hay River and Kátł’odeeche]; we’ve been here for hundreds of years.”
‘Same as every other group’
The KFN and NWTMN disagree not only about the peoples from whom the Métis are descended, but also how long they have called the land home.
“The Métis descendants of the Akaitcho Dene, which KFN believes are the only Métis people the NWTMN can rightfully represent, are recent arrivals to these areas, following the establishment of the Town of Hay River,” states the KFN release.
Both parties are adamant the land in question is theirs.
“All we’re doing is the same thing every other group has done. They’ve put up signs within their traditional territory,” claimed Bailey, who said the Hay River sign will be beside the highway leaving town and not on reserve land.
“You always see Akaitcho Territory or Tłı̨chǫ Territory. Have you ever seen Northwest Territory Métis Nation? Never,” he said, adding the Métis were not consulted when other signage indicating traditional territories was installed.
“We’ve been fighting for equality for so long and we’re … just taking our rightful place here. We agree to have a shared territory – no problem.
“I don’t want to get into war with the First Nation, but they’ve got to respect that Métis have been left out for 119 years [since the signing of Treaty 8].”
Signs to be installed
While Treaty 8 was originally signed in 1899, some signatories – including KFN – were added to the treaty a year later.
Bailey said the NWTMN requested permission from the Town of Hay River due to the large size of the sign, but also emphasized his organization was “not going to ask anyone for permission to put up a sign in our own traditional territory.”
The KFN press release concluded: “While the Kátł’odeeche First Nation has welcomed Dene and Métis from other regions as guests in its Traditional Territory, including members of the NWTMN, KFN does not appreciate these people or organizations attempting to claim KFN traditional lands.”
As the signs have yet to be installed, it is unclear if their final location will affect KFN’s position.