The annual general assembly of the Northwest Territory Metis Nation – held at the Soaring Eagle Friendship Centre from Nov. 21 to Nov. 24 – was highlighted by something new and long-awaited.
The launch of a membership card.
“This year, a big thing we’ve announced is that we’re giving out membership cards for all our members now,” said Garry Bailey, the president of the Metis Nation. “It’s been a long time coming. It’s been attempted I think three times before, but was never done accurate.”
However, Bailey noted that, this year, the organization has been working on the issue with a genealogist.
“So the genealogist will verify that everything that has been given for each person’s information is factual and it goes back to pre-1921,” he said.
At the assembly, the first 10 cards were given out to the board members of the Metis Nation. That includes the executive and regional board of directors made up of the presidents and vice-presidents of the Metis Councils in Hay River, Fort Smith and Fort Resolution.
But those were the first of many more cards to come.
“I think we’re going to have 2,500 to 3,000 to give away,” said Bailey of Fort Resolution.
“It’s the first cards for the Northwest Territory Metis Nation,” he noted. “It identifies us as Metis. It’s going to be recognized throughout the Northwest Territories for harvesting and for our agreement when it’s completed.”
A person with such a card would be eligible to benefit from a land claim agreement and be able to vote on the final agreement.
Negotiations are still underway for that agreement. An agreement-in-principle on land and resources was signed in 2015. A final agreement would also deal with self-government.
The genealogist working with the Metis Nation will be visiting the three communities to take pictures of eligible people.
“Once they take their pictures, they can put it right on the card itself,” said Bailey. “They’d receive it that day. As long as their genealogy has been done and approved, they can get their cards.”
The president noted that a membership card has been an issue since 1997.
“We’d get it so far, but it was never complete to what the federal government actually wanted on it,” he said. “It was never ever given clear direction and a clear mandate, and I think we’ve got that now.”
Bailey said the card can make the membership comfortable about who’s in the negotiation process and who’s not.
No elections were held at the annual general assembly this year.
However, membership was given an update on the negotiation process.
“There has been an increase in the offer,” said Bailey. “I don’t think I could put it out there in public, yet. But there’s still work that needs to be done.”
In March, the leadership of the Northwest Territory Metis Nation had said the financial offer was about $71 million at that time.
However, the Metis Nation is still facing the issue of a large amount of money – $30 million by March of this year – that it had borrowed from the federal government during the 21 years of negotiations with the federal and territorial governments.
“That is still one of our outstanding issues that we’re negotiating,” said Bailey. “We’re optimistic that they’ll give some of it for sure, but we won’t know until the final.”
The president noted progress has been made on other issues, such as Metis rights to harvest outside of its settlement area once it has been established.
The talks towards a final agreement are still expected to take upwards of two years.
Bailey noted that 17 resolutions were approved at the assembly, which was attended by about 100 people.
One resolution once again expressed the Metis Nation’s long-standing opposition to GNWT taxation on cabins owned by Metis.
Another resolution involved the idea of putting up signs to identify the traditional territory of the Northwest Territory Metis Nation.
Bailey pointed out that no territorial cabinet members attended the assembly.
“They all had other things to do, apparently,” he said. “They were all invited.”
It was the second year in a row that no cabinet ministers, nor any regional MLA, attended the assembly.
Their absence did not go unnoticed, as Bailey said many members asked him why the GNWT politicians weren’t showing up.
“People are pretty frustrated,” he said. “You see them make appearances. The opening of Tim Hortons in Fort Smith seemed to be a big deal for them, but they couldn’t make it to our two assemblies.”
Bailey said it appears that members of the territorial cabinet do not think they have to show up at the assembly after the 2012 signing of a memorandum of understanding for a government-to-government relationship between the GNWT and the Northwest Territory Metis Nation.