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North Slave Metis Alliance wins court battle

The president of the North Slave Metis Alliance (NSMA) could not contain his excitement last week after winning a federal court case that pitted the two NWT Metis organizations against each other.

Bill Enge, president of the North Slave Metis Alliance (NSMA) is all smiles as he holds a copy of a federal court decision in front of the courthouse minutes after he received it Oct. 19. A judge ruled the NSMA was not consulted in an adequate way when the feds negotiated a land and resources agreement with the NWT Metis Nation. - John McFadden/NNSL photo

After the court sided with the alliance in its civil case, a beaming Bill Enge said Judge Anne Mactavish agreed with what he has been arguing all along.

The court ruled the Yellowknife-based NSMA 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 action by the NMSA was against the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development Carolyn Bennett, the NWTMA and the GNWT.

The case was heard over several days at the Yellowknife Courthouse in June.

“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 Andrew Baumberg, spokesperson for the federal court 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.

Enge said the issue boils down to how the agreement-in-principle, as it currently reads, does not fully recognize the rights of NSMA members to harvest fish and wildlife in their ancestral home north of Great Slave Lake.

Enge called it a huge win for NSMA members.

“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,” Enge stated in a news release. “The judge ruled that the NSMA is the only actual Metis organization in the NWT that represents Metis people. The NWT Metis Nation doesn't actually represent anybody. They don't have any members and they certainly don't represent any Metis people. It's time for the GNWT and the Government of Canada to start negotiating with the North Slave Metis Alliance.”

Enge has admitted in the past that the issue – dealing with ancestry and ethnicity - is a complex one – particularly for non-Metis people.

“The Court ruled that the NWTMN agreement-in-principle signals the intention of Canada to extinguish the aboriginal rights of all NSMA members who may have a Dene ancestor from the South Slave region, even if those NSMA members do not enroll under the NWTMN final land claim agreement, Enge explained. “The Court found that the NWTMN agreement-in-principle is based on Indian ancestry not Metis ethnicity. The Court admonished Canada for deciding which organization had the more appealing agency and in doing so ran roughshod over the aboriginal rights of NSMA members.”

The Court has also ordered a judicial review of the agreement and the process used to reach it.

Christopher Devlin, the NSMA's Victoria, B.C.-based lawyer said where the Metis land claim negotiations in the NWT go next, in light of the court decision, is anyone's guess.

“Is Canada finally going to recognize the NSMA as a legitimate aboriginal organization that it has to have relations with? Canada often will read court decisions and then interpret them in ways that doesn't make (consultation) mandatory,” Devlin said. “Then you have to go back to court to get another order saying they have to talk to us. Maybe Canada will, maybe they won't.”

News/North reached out to the NWT Metis Nation for reaction to the decision but emails and phone calls were not returned as of press time.

A spokesperson for the territorial government said officials were reviewing the decision, but no response was offered to it by press time. News/North also reached out to NWT MP Michael McLeod, who identifies as Metis. A spokesperson for him said he was travelling and was unable to comment as of press time.