The president of the North Slave Metis Alliance was grinning ear to ear outside the Yellowknife courthouse.
Holding a court decision, Bill Enge said, “This is a huge win for the members of the North Slave Metis Alliance (NSMA).”
Nobody can say it wasn’t a very good day in the history of the Metis Alliance. In a news release later that day, the alliance stated, “(The decision) confirms what we have known all along: our members are Metis of the Great Slave Lake area whose Aboriginal rights cannot be unilaterally extinguished by Canada according to its capricious regional policies.”
But what exactly did the alliance win? And what impact will it have on the quality of life of its membership? And that of Indigenous people across the NWT?
The court ruled the Yellowknife-based Metis Alliance was not adequately consulted by Canada respecting the Fort Smith-based NWT Metis Nation (NWTMN) Land and Resources Agreement-in-Principle, signed on July 31, 2015.
The Metis Nation is based in the South Slave but also has members in the Yellowknife area, where most of the North Slave Metis Alliance membership lives.
“Upon review, the court concluded that the NSMA was entitled to be consulted with respect to the potential adverse impact of the NWTMN agreement-in-principle on the Aboriginal rights held by its members,” stated federal court spokesperson Andrew Baumberg in a news release. “The court found that Canada misapprehended the severity of the potential impact that the final land and resources agreement would have on the Aboriginal rights of the NSMA’s members.”
Baumberg added that Canada had a fundamental misconception of the nature and scope of its duty to consult.
The issue, as News/North has been told, is essentially about how the agreement-in-principle, as it currently reads, does not fully recognize the rights of Metis Alliance members to harvest fish and wildlife in their ancestral home north of Great Slave Lake.
Enge has admitted in the past that the issue – dealing with ancestry and ethnicity – is a complex one, particularly for non-Metis people.
He went so far as to call it as ethnic cleansing.
“The North Slave Metis people have just spent the past five years in court fighting the (GNWT) for their Aboriginal right to harvest caribou and we were successful in our Supreme Court of the NWT lawsuit,” Enge said.
Unfortunately, many Indigenous groups are spending a lot of time in courtrooms fighting government and each other. As lawyers fill their wallets with billable hours for these often extremely drawn out cases, we have to wonder what it all means for the average person? Well, not a lot. For current generations, at least.
As we noted in an earlier editorial, Indigenous groups such as the Dene Nation were once strong enough to stop a pipeline and force the territorial government to hand the reins of power over to a council led by indigenous politicians (“Court fight deepens divide,” July 3).
Alas, nowadays the front is in tatters, allowing the Ottawa and the GNWT to easily have their way.
We have to ask, again, when will the desire for harmony outweigh the need for bragging rights and small victories?
So what happens next? Well, the federal court’s ruling also called for a judicial review of the agreement and the process used to reach it. So that could help clean some part of the process up and allow other groups to avoid court battles such as we just had here.
In the larger scheme of things, it will boil down to whether Canada – after reading and interpreting the court’s ruling in this case – will recognize the Metis Alliance as a legitimate Aboriginal organization and agree to have relations with it.
News/North truly hopes that does happen, and we call on NWT MP Michael McLeod – who identifies as Metis, and chairs the Arctic and Northern Caucus – to help make it so.
As for the Indigenous groups, wouldn’t a united voice be able to reach Ottawa much better than the fractured chorus we have now?