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Metis history in print

Roxanna Thompson
Northern News Services
Thursday, July 5, 2007

DEHCHO - When Albert Lafferty was growing up in Fort Providence every year he watched the Treaty Day celebrations.

NNSL Photo/Graphic

Albert Lafferty, the president of the Fort Providence Metis Council, launched the organization's new book at the Dehcho Assembly in Fort Simpson. - Roxanna Thompson/NNSL photo

When he was around 10 years old he started to ask questions about how Metis people fit into the event but no one seemed to be able to provide the answer.

It's questions like his from which the Fort Providence Metis Council's new book grew.

Titled Since 1921: The Relationship between Dehcho Metis and Canada, the 82-page book provides an overview of Dehcho Metis history in the context of their relationship with Canada.

"I think it will contribute to building an understanding," said Lafferty.

He worked as the project lead on the publication that was written jointly by Stephanie Irlbacher-Fox, a consultant in Yellowknife, and the Fort Providence Metis Council.

The book starts in 1921 because that was the year that the Canadian government sent its Treaty 11 Half-breed Scrip Commission to the Deh Cho and other regions of the NWT. Scrip is an abbreviation of the term subscription receipt.

Under the scrip system Metis were given cash grants or parcels of land in return for giving up their aboriginal title to their traditional territory.

In the district a total of 172 scrip claims were paid out between 1924-27.

"It's been a tremendous learning experience to try and make sense of what scrip was all about," said Lafferty.

Lafferty describes the program as how the Metis' ancestors were defrauded. Many people who received the payments didn't fully understand what they were giving up, he said. The scrips were supposed to extinguish Metis aboriginal rights on an individual basis.

"We were suppose to disappear into obscurity," he said.

Additionally, the process was imposed on the Metis people. It wasn't a negotiation process like the treaties, said Lafferty.

Most people don't know very much about the scrip system, said Lafferty.

He hopes the book will help change this because the history of the scrip system still affects Metis people today, he said.

Canada still holds that the Metis aboriginal rights have been extinguished, said Lafferty.

"A lot of the time we have to defend our very existence when we're dealing with the government and society in general," he said.

Metis people don't believe the scrips took away their rights. Through the research process, Lafferty said he learned more about exactly what happened.

"It's become clear that we have much more to sort out with Canada," said Lafferty.

Metis people hope to see some restitution and have their injustices dealt with in an honourable way, Lafferty said.

"We don't ask for much. We just want fairness and justice," he said.

At the back of the book there is a section on recommendations to the government on how this could be done.

In addition to detailing the scrip system, the book also shows who the Metis are and how they've contributed to the development of the region.

"In some way we had our feet in both worlds," said Lafferty.

The book profiles several Metis elders and ancestors and contains a variety of historical photographs.

It's good to see so much Metis history recorded together in a book, said Marie Lafferty, the president of the Fort Simpson Metis Nation.

"I'm really impressed with what he's done," said Marie Lafferty referring to Albert Lafferty.

There's not much Metis history recorded in the area so the book is a welcome addition, said Marie Lafferty.

The book is the end result of years of academic, archival and oral history research that has been ongoing since 2001.

"A lot of work went into it," said Albert Lafferty.

Copies of the book will be available later in the summer and fall from the Fort Providence Metis Council, which is acting as its own publisher.

"I think people are probably going to find it quite interesting," said Albert Lafferty.