THE STANDING SENATE COMMITTEE ON ABORIGINAL PEOPLES
OTTAWA, Wednesday, October 17, 2012
The Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples met this day at 6:45 p.m. to examine and report on the legal and political recognition of Metis identity in Canada.
Senator Gerry St. Germain (Chair) in the chair.
The Chair: Good evening. I would like to welcome all honourable senators and members of the public who are watching this meeting of the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples. They will either be watching on CPAC or the Web, possibly. I am Gerry St. Germain from British Columbia, originally from Manitoba, and I have the privilege of chairing this committee with these wonderful members. The mandate of this committee is to examine legislation and matters relating to the Aboriginal peoples of Canada generally.
Today we will be hearing testimony relating to a specific order of reference that authorizes us to examine and report on the legal and political recognition of Metis identity in Canada.
The early meetings on this study have consisted of briefings from various government departments that have provided us with information including facts on current federal programs and services, the status of Crown-Metis relations, general statistical information, and current legal issues, among other things.
Before giving the floor to our witnesses, I would like to introduce the members of the committee who are here tonight.
On my left is the deputy chair; from the province of Saskatchewan we have Senator Lillian Dyck. Next to Senator Dyck is Senator Larry Campbell from British Columbia.
On my right is Senator Ataullahjan from Ontario. Next to Senator Ataullahjan is Senator Patterson from Nunavut. Next to Senator Patterson is Senator Nancy Greene Raine from British Columbia as well. Next to Senator Raine is Senator Vernon White, also from Ontario. Last, but certainly not least, from Quebec, Senator Jacques Demers, the coach.
Members of the committee, please help me in welcoming our witnesses. They are from the North Slave Métis Alliance. With us tonight we have the president, William Enge. Welcome, Bill. With him is Christopher Devlin, counsel for the North Slave Métis Alliance.
Gentlemen, I believe you have a presentation. Keep it as brief as possible. Senators will have questions, I am sure. If you are ready, proceed.
William (Bill) A. Enge, President, North Slave Métis Alliance: Thank you, Mr. Chair. It is a privilege to be here in front of another Senate committee. I was here some time ago and it is nice to be back.
To begin, I want to thank this committee for the opportunity to provide the views of the North Slave Métis Alliance, or the NSMA, on the legal and political recognition of Metis identity in Canada. We believe these issues deserve the detailed consideration that the Senate can provide.
My name is Bill Enge. I am the president of the North Slave Métis Alliance. I have been president since 2004. With me is my legal counsel, Christopher Devlin.
The issue of Metis identity is very close to our hearts because, to put it simply, we know who we are. The North Slave Métis Alliance has provided both Canada and the territorial government with the North Slave Métis Alliance's organizational documents, our members' genealogy records, and ethno-genesis studies that document our community's history. We have a clear mandate to represent our Metis community, but both Canada and our territorial government say they are not convinced we exist.
We have worked hard to self-organize and define the North Slave Métis Alliance community. The paper we submitted to the committee explains that, and I base my presentation on that paper.
Tonight, I will give you a very brief overview of our community and then describe some of the challenges that uncertainty over Metis identity causes for us. I will finish with our six recommendations.
First, NSMA's constitution and bylaws provide that no one who is registered as an Indian under the Indian Act can be accepted as a member and that the North Slave Métis Alliance represents only those Aboriginal rights-bearing Metis of the Great Slave Lake area who assert their rights on the north side of the Great Slave Lake. I see from the committee's website that members were just in Yellowknife at the beginning of October. Yellowknife is in our traditional territory. No other organization is mandated to represent the Aboriginal rights of our members.
Second, our members trace their ancestry prior to the date of effective European control. I, along with over 50 of our members, now have detailed genealogical records that trace our ancestry back to a famous founding father of the Metis of the Great Slave Lake area, François Beaulieu II, also known as “La Patriarch.”
Finally, academic research, commissioned by Canada's Department of Justice, documents that the Metis of the Great Slave Lake area have been on the land and in existence prior to and since the explorations of that area by Alexander Mackenzie and the North West Company of fur traders in 1790s. The Metis community was vibrant and distinct from both Indians and Whites by the 1820s.
NSMA's fundamental challenge is this: The contemporary Metis community of the entire Great Slave Lake area is one ethnic community with a common ancestry. However, the reality is that today the contemporary ethnic community expresses itself through two main organizations. Those two are the NSMA, on the north side of Great Slave Lake, and second, the Northwest Territory Métis Nation on the south side of Great Slave Lake. I note here that until 2002, the Northwest Territory Métis Nation was known as the South Slave Métis Tribal Council, which I think makes the distinction between the two organizations even more clear.
The common law supports that two groups representing one larger ethnic community is acceptable. That being said, I will ask you to direct any legal questions about that to my counsel, Christopher Devlin.
The problem is that NSMA cannot get the Crown, neither federal nor territorial, to engage with us. Canada and the government of the Northwest Territories have chosen to engage with the Northwest Territory Métis Nation, our cousins to the south, but not with us. The South Slave Métis Tribal Council, as it was known when it was originally formed, and the North Slave Métis Alliance both became legal entities around the same time. We have never been told why the Crown engaged with them and not us. This situation is extremely frustrating.
This uncertainty about the identification of Metis communities is harming our members. This spring we brought a case before the Supreme Court of the Northwest Territories in an effort to make the government of the Northwest Territories respect our members' Aboriginal right to harvest caribou. This fall we are wrestling with the fact that we are excluded from the devolution negotiations between Canada, the Government of the Northwest Territories and Aboriginal organizations, including the Northwest Territory Métis Nation. The uncertainty about Metis identity means that our members, the Metis who use and occupy the area north of Great Slave Lake, are the only Aboriginal people whose Aboriginal rights are being ignored in the Northwest Territories.
We note that Canada has already started a program to identify Metis communities with which to engage. After the Powley decision in 2003, the Department of Justice commissioned 15 studies, which gathered vital information on Metis history and ethno-genesis and the date of effective European control in the 15 study areas. Indeed, it is Canada's report on the ethno-genesis of the Metis in the Great Slave Lake area of the Northwest Territories that I referred to earlier. Canada's reports are clarifying some of the uncertainty regarding Metis identity. It is worth pointing out here that the Crown did not inform us of these studies: We stumbled on a reference to them on the AANDC website, and an NSMA worker managed to get a copy of the study that the Department of Justice did on our community.
I would also like to note that I paid for most of my own genealogical research out of my own pocket, but Canada's report solidified our Aboriginal rights assertions.
Thus, the NSMA recommends that, first, Canada complete the identification of historic Metis communities across the nation that they started just after the Powley decision.
The second recommendation is that Canada be sensitive to how the Metis organize themselves into expressions of Metis identity. The analysis should focus on how the ethnic community self-organizes to assert their Aboriginal rights.
In Powley, the Supreme Court of Canada directed that we must take into account the Metis' own conception of the distinct features of their community. The goal is not to flatten out the individual nature of the communities in question, but rather to listen for these differences and build a legal and political construct that is elastic enough to accept different histories into each identity. We are a very good example of this — NSMA in the north, Northwest Territory Métis Nation in the south.
Recommendation No. 3 is that Canada establish policy directives to require government officials to identify modern Metis communities on the basis of the post-2003 Department of Justice studies of the 15 regions and any other similar studies.
Recommendation No. 4 is that Canada contact those communities to determine how they self-organize for the purposes of legal and political representation.
Recommendation No. 5 is that Canada commit to engage those communities as they have chosen to self-organize with respect to the full range of potential federal initiatives, from consultations to self-government negotiations. This is really asking that Canada be directed to finish what they started in 2003.
Recommendation No. 6 is that Canada provide research and genealogical funding to those communities so that they may gather the historical documents required to assert their members' Metis rights. If the material is required for Canada to make a decision, then Canada must help Metis organizations, which Canada itself has identified, to produce the material they are asking for.
I conclude by thanking the Senate for listening to our story and our comments. We encourage the Senate to bring forward strong policy guidance for a flexible policy that can recognize both the specific histories and the modern identities of Canada's rights-bearing Metis.
The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Enge. How many people are there in your community?
Mr. Enge: Our community is comprised of just over 500 people.
The Chair: Does that include everyone?
Mr. Enge: That is correct.
The Chair: How much territory do you occupy? Are you on Crown land or a settlement?
Mr. Enge: Metis reside in the cities, towns and villages of Canada, with the exception of the Metis communities in Alberta. In the Northwest Territories, the Metis are in the communities. In the Northwest Territories it is a little different. There are only two Indian reserves there, and the Metis are not part of the Indian reserve system; we are, as I said, in the cities, towns and villages. In this context, many of our members reside in Yellowknife.
The Chair: Is there an actual settlement there that could be identified as the North Slave Metis settlement? I am not trying to put you on the spot; I am trying to visualize it.
Mr. Enge: That is a fair question, Senator St. Germain. We have a long history in the North Slave area and in our traditional lands. At one time the North Metis were collectivized and lived in what they call Old Fort Rae, which was a Hudson's Bay Company post, and that represents the origins of the Metis in the North Slave area. Old Fort Rae was where the Hudson's Bay Company set up their first trading post. Actually, even before the Hudson's Bay Company there was the North West Company, and before them the Company of the Sioux. The Metis did have concentrations of community in one area during the fur trade days.
The Chair: Did you speak Michif?
Mr. Enge: Absolutely, our Metis people did speak Michif and several other languages. As you know, Metis were multilingual. They spoke French, English, Michif, Dogrib and Chipewyan. One of the hallmarks of the Metis was that they were good interpreters and transporters of the furs. Our people were definitely multilingual in that context.
Senator Demers: Thank you for your presentation. It was clear; I understood everything you said.
You have said that the rights of your 500 people are ignored. That does not make sense. You said that your studies are not available and you have no identity. It must be frustrating to have your rights ignored. Why do you think your studies, your identity and your rights are not given to you?
Mr. Enge: That is a three-part question. On the first as to whether the Crown has enough information in its hands to make a determination that there are Aboriginal rights-bearing Metis people, the North Slave Métis Alliance people, indeed they do. I mentioned in my presentation that the federal Department of Justice undertook a study of the ethno-genesis of the North Slave Métis people, or the Metis of the Great Slave area. They have an extensive report about the history and the genealogy of the Great Slave Lake Metis. From our point of view, they have enough information to have made the determination that we are section 35 Aboriginal rights holders.
They have in their hands their own report, and I have supplemented that report with my own historical documentation, including my genealogy, Metis scrip records, baptism records, birth certificates and historiography that was accepted about my ancestor, François Beaulieu II, who was a very famous Metis, a noted founding father of the Metis in the Northwest Territories. He was recognized by Canadian Heritage as a historic figure in the building of Canada.
I placed all of that information and all of those documents into the hands of both the federal and the territorial governments, to no avail. You can appreciate that we are frustrated with the stonewalling response we are getting from the Crown, notwithstanding all the efforts we have made to provide them with the information they need to appreciate that we are an Aboriginal rights-bearing people.
You have to remind me of your second question.
Senator Demers: You touched on the fact of the studies not being available. Your rights are ignored, which is very difficult for anyone to accept. As to identity, you have no identity. That is as though you do not exist. That must be frustrating.
Mr. Enge: It is very frustrating that the Crown's view is that we do not exist, especially when you take into account that the history of land claims in the Northwest Territories was such that there was a joint Dene-Metis comprehensive territorial land claim negotiation that failed in 1990. All the Metis in the Mackenzie Basin, including myself, were included in that claim. Then along came the advent of regional land claims and suddenly the Metis in the Yellowknife or the North Slave area, where I reside, became invisible. It is frustrating because we were counted in the past and suddenly, with the change in the way the Crown is dealing with the Aboriginal rights of the Dene-Metis, we become invisible while the Metis in all the other regions are visible. We are invisible and do not understand that. We have never been provided with a rationale for why they refused to deal with us, notwithstanding our best efforts to provide the Crown with the information they need to recognize that we are section 35 Aboriginal rights holders.
Christopher Devlin, Counsel, North Slave Métis Alliance: May I add a supplementary? We do not know the real reason why the government will not engage, but the theory we have is that they do not approach the Metis identity from a rights-based paradigm. The engagement that exists with other Metis groups seems to be on a matter of policy, and it has been admitted to us that it is a pre-Powley policy. Rather than taking the Powley test and going through where the historic and contemporary rights-based collective is, moving from there going forward, they pick and choose which group they want to sit down and negotiate with.
It is very much a high-level policy; pick your favourite Metis group. There is no foundational analysis done to say what is actually the rights-based community that we should be engaging with. Instead of going through the Powley analysis — determining that and moving from that point forward and saying we should consult these folks, we should negotiate with these folks, we should talk about engaging in program funding — they say instead we have a pre-Powley policy. What is that?
Senator Dyck: I am getting a little confused. The first question I am going to ask is with respect to scrip. At one point in time in 1921 I guess your community took scrip. Does that then give you a land base that you can specifically define as Metis land?
Mr. Enge: Thank you for the question. The Metis that took land scrip were mostly in parts of Canada where agriculture was possible, for example, in Alberta or Manitoba. However, in the Northwest Territories it is not conducive to have an agrarian economy. My ancestors and members took a cash scrip, which was usually $250. That is how the Crown felt the method to extinguish our Aboriginal title could be done, but of course we do not believe that this instrument was achieved for that purpose.
The Chair: For clarification, is there a record of that $250 scrip being paid to individual Metis in your area?
Mr. Enge: Yes, Mr. Chair, and I have a copy of my ancestor's scrip applications and scrip vouchers. Some of the payouts were for $160 and others were for $250.
Senator Dyck: I am curious. Following up on a question of land, you were saying that most of your community lives in Yellowknife.
Mr. Enge: Yes.
Senator Dyck: Do you consider your traditional land to be the same area or overlapping parts of where the Tlicho First Nations live? Is there a significant overlap of land?
Mr. Enge: Yes, thank you for the question, and, indeed we have an interest in the sharing of lands in that region. We share the lands in the North Slave area, both with the Tlicho and the Akaitcho First Nations. We have an Aboriginal interest and right to those lands. We have never ceded them. We are asking the Crown to have our Aboriginal rights respected on par with the First Nations. We feel we deserve to have a land claims table just like our southern Metis counterparts have, as the First Nations do and as the Metis included in other claims. In the Sahtu region north of Great Slave up to Mackenzie Valley there is a joint Dene-Metis land claim. The Crown has already established the precedent for recognizing the Metis as Aboriginal rights-bearing people with whom they need to negotiate a land claim, so for the life of us we cannot understand why we are being treated differently.
Senator Dyck: Following up on that line, you were saying we met with the Northwest Territory Métis Nation. I could be wrong, but my impression is that they may or may not fit the Powley definition of Metis. With regard to your community, the North Slave Metis, do you fit the Powley definition of Metis?
Mr. Enge: Thank you for the question. I can confirm wholeheartedly that we fit the Powley test.
Senator Dyck: You do?
Mr. Enge: Yes. I cannot speak for the Northwest Territory Métis Nation. You mentioned that this committee has met with representatives from the Northwest Territory Métis Nation, but here is another wrinkle in the way in which we are being treated by the Crown. The Crown saw fit to approve the Northwest Territory Métis Nation for a land and resource negotiation before the Powley test came into existence.
Senator Dyck: They are pre-Powley.
Mr. Enge: They are pre-Powley and were never subject to the same kind of rigorous scrutiny by the Crown as they are putting the North Slave Métis Alliance through. We have ensured that our membership meets the Powley test when we assert our Aboriginal rights. We have provided the information that the Crown needs in order to make that determination. Of course, we did it very diligently with an eye on the Powley test as the standard we needed to meet in order to be considered as an Aboriginal rights-bearing people.
Senator Dyck: You submitted the evidence. Did you request feedback? Have they written back to say yes, we do or do not accept that you are part of the Powley definition?
Mr. Enge: I cannot help but chuckle a little bit about this because as I mentioned earlier in my presentation, we had to go to the Supreme Court of the Northwest Territories to fight for our Aboriginal right to harvest caribou. That means in order to have the Aboriginal right to harvest caribou we have to meet the Powley test. We provided that information to the Crown, knowing what the legal test would be; we have done that. Again, this standard, the Powley test, is not being applied equally across the board. There is definitely a double standard with the Crown when they treat the South Slave Metis, our cousins, differently than us. We see that as being patently unfair.
Mr. Devlin: The Government of the Northwest Territories says they will not recognize the NSMA until Canada does. Canada says we will not recognize the NSMA until the court tells us. The court is still reserved. This is an example of how the construction of Metis identity gets passed around for political expediency and no one sits down and actually engages in the rights-based analysis.
The Chair: Can you tell me why you would not join up with the Northwest Territory Métis Nation?
Mr. Enge: Certainly, Senator St. Germain. There are a few reasons, but let me specify right off the bat that the Northwest Territory Métis Nation is engaged in a land and resource negotiation with the Crown.
In their framework agreement — and now they have an agreement in principle — it specifies which communities this land and negotiation agreement applies to. In that context it is Fort Smith, Hay River and Fort Resolution, to the exclusion of Yellowknife. We had no choice but to form an organization to assert our own rights because we were not included as a community under the auspices of that claim. First, we are a separate community north of the lake, therefore we see ourselves as a separate entity geographically separated by the lake, so we are on the north side of the lake; and second, we were not a part of their land and resources negotiation or agreement.
The Chair: Thank you.
Senator Raine: This is very interesting. Your claims of Aboriginal title are to the traditional territory, which territory is also claimed by the Tlicho First Nation. Are you working together in that claim, or do you respect each other's claim for the same territory? How does that work out? Are you dividing it up? Obviously you have two different groups claiming the same territory. They must have an agreement.
Mr. Enge: Well, it would be nice, Senator Greene Raine, if we did have an agreement that accommodated both of our Aboriginal rights interests, but we do not. The Tlicho agreement has the equivalent of an embedded notwithstanding clause. If the Tlicho agreement infringes on the Metis Aboriginal rights, then the agreement allows for remedy of that infringement. We do not have any formal agreement between our peoples with regard to the same lands that we claim as our ancestral homeland.
As of now, we have not had to challenge the Tlicho with respect to infringement, but there is an issue brewing between our peoples. A number of years ago we purchased, in fee simple, the Old Fort Rae site where the Hudson's Bay Company trading post was, from the Hudson's Bay Company. It is a heritage site of the historic Metis. Under the Tlicho land claim agreement, the lands that they selected run right through the middle of the Old Fort Rae fee simple land that we have.
We claim that that is sacred ground for us and we are going to have to come to some agreement because our ancestors are buried in Old Fort Rae, right where the surveyors went through this past summer claiming that that is Tlicho land. Right in the site where they put their survey line is the graveyard of my ancestors. We have to work out some kind of accommodation there.
We do not have an agreement yet and, again, there is a mechanism in that Tlicho land claim agreement to deal with grievances as and when they arise.
Mr. Devlin: Senator, your question dovetails a little with the earlier question about the interest in land. The traditional territory of the North Slave Métis Alliance members does coincide quite a bit with the territory claimed by the Tlicho, but the interest in land is not just a title issue. The Metis are great harvesters of bush meat and using the land. Many of the Aboriginal rights that they try to assert and are keen to protect are rights about using the land. Most of the modern treaties and final agreements permit for non-exclusive harvesting rights by a variety of Aboriginal users. Certainly, when these issues have come up in the common law, you can see that with the Aboriginal rights to hunt, fish, trap and harvest from the land, these are non-exclusive rights. It is only when you are dealing with issues of Aboriginal title that exclusivity becomes a question.
Senator Patterson: I would like to thank the presenters. I could not agree more that — and I think you were suggesting it was tragic — that there was a comprehensive Dene-Metis land claim agreement covering the whole of the Northwest Territories that unfortunately faltered. I was involved in the politics at the time. My recollection is that it was not the Metis who were the problem in rejecting that agreement and not putting it to their members for a vote; it was the Dene. There was an agreement in principle signed by the Government of Canada and it would have created a comprehensive claim up and down the Mackenzie Valley. It would have been an example for the Metis of Canada and it would have given the Dene and Metis Aboriginal rights to lands and resources before the diamond rush took place. It was really one of my regrets in my political life that that agreement faltered amidst the turmoil of Oka. I believe the death of the Meech Lake accord was a factor as well. I wanted to acknowledge that we are now dealing with the consequences, and your situation is but one example.
In our studies we have heard various definitions of “Metis.” One of them takes us back to the Red River Valley and the original homelands of the Red River Metis. I am intrigued that your research shows you have been in the N.W.T. since the 1790s and you talked about the legendary François Beaulieu II.
Did he have links to the Metis of the Prairies? Can you tell us a bit about that, please?
Mr. Enge: Yes, certainly. One of the hallmarks of the Metis people is that they were very mobile. They were the intermediaries in the fur trade. They were the ones who brought the furs from the hinterland to the metropolis centres of Canada. François Beaulieu was a major figure in the fur trade. During the fur trade, he was a leader who also transported the furs from the hinterland to the centres. There are records of him taking canoe brigades, like the Metis coureurs de bois and the French voyageurs. This was the heritage that the Metis inherited from their part in the fur trade and in mixing with the coureurs de bois and other Europeans. In this context, there is clear evidence that François Beaulieu was taking brigades up to Ile-a-la-Crosse in Saskatchewan. There were a number of different collection points that the Hudson's Bay Company and the North West Company had set up, and the Metis would bring their furs to deposit them for further transportation. There is evidence that not only did François Beaulieu go into the western part of Canada as far as Saskatchewan but also that he guided expeditions through to the Rocky Mountains. He had quite an extensive background in terms of going here, there, and everywhere, like the Metis did during the historic fur trade times.
Indeed, I believe that the historiography that I referred to earlier, that the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada has accepted as the document to designate François Beaulieu II as an historic Metis figure has that part of his life experience contained in it.
Senator Patterson: Where was he born, do you know?
Mr. Enge: He was born in the Northwest Territories. I cannot say for certain exactly where it was, but it appears from my understanding of the historic record that it was in the North Slave area. His father was quite famous in his own right. François Beaulieu I, they called him. He had taken Franklin up the Coppermine River on an expedition, and it was somewhere in that area that François Beaulieu II was born.
Senator Patterson: You have talked about the issue brewing with the Tlicho. I also understand that you are at odds with the Akaitcho right now and that they are, I believe, negotiating with Canada and identifying lands, and, as you have said, you are not involved. Could you describe that situation for us and where things are at in that connection with the Akaitcho? That is in the Yellowknife area, is it not?
Mr. Enge: I want to be clear here. We have a very good relationship with the Tlicho. It was only recently, at a Mackenzie Valley Environmental Impact Review Board hearing looking into the prospect of another mine being built in our traditional lands where our joint interests came together. We are working hand in glove with the Tlicho with respect to our interests in this mine. This mine is being proposed by a mining company called Fortune Minerals and they are calling it the NICO Project. Of course, the Mackenzie Valley Environmental Impact Review Board is holding hearings looking into the impact that mine would have on the Aboriginal peoples' homeland.
I had the opportunity to attend the hearings right in the community of Behchoko, the largest Tlicho community, and I had opportunities to sit down and speak with the grand chief and all the other chiefs of the communities. We find common ground with each other and we find ourselves natural allies with respect to many projects and this one in particular. I am optimistic that we will work out our issues with respect to our sacred ground of Old Fort Rae, where our ancestors are buried; I am sure that will be fine.
Having said that, with respect to the Akaitcho Dene First Nations, that organization is taking the N.W.T. Métis Nation to court as opposed to the North Slave Métis Alliance. We do feel very disappointed in what they are saying about the Metis because, by extension of what they are saying in their statement of claim, namely that there are no section 35 Aboriginal rights-bearing Metis people in the Northwest Territories, we feel quite offended by that, especially when we take into account that it was not too far in the past that we were all working together under the auspices of a Dene-Metis claim. Fast-forward to the years since 1990 and they are now taking a very different approach to us. I think the best word to characterize it is a hostile position, and we do not understand the rationale for that. The fact of the matter is the Metis that I represent, our cousins to the south, are all section 35 Aboriginal rights-holding, rights-bearing Metis people. I have had to produce my genealogy and historical documents for the lawsuit that I had to prosecute against the Crown for denying our members the right to harvest caribou. The genealogical documents and historical documents that I referred to earlier in my presentation equally apply to the South Slave Metis, the very Metis that the Akaitcho Dene are taking to court, claiming that they do not possess Aboriginal rights and therefore the Crown has no business negotiating a land and resource agreement with them. It does not make sense and it does not add up.
You can say that our relationship with the Akaitcho First Nation is one of indifference. We are not really communicating at a very good level right now. I do not have the same kind of relationship with the Akaitcho chiefs as I do with the Tlicho chiefs. That is unfortunate, and I hope that down the road they will change their minds about us. I think what will help change their minds is when the Supreme Court of the Northwest Territories issues their ruling that the North Slave Metis people possess section 35 Aboriginal rights, and we can put that matter to rest once and for all.
Senator Patterson: Thank you.
Mr. Devlin: The Metis of the Great Slave Lake area, the historians, tell us the ethno-genesis of the Metis of the Great Slave Lake area from the late 1700s into the early 1800s and that is the ethnic community that was there coexisting with the European fur traders and the various First Nations in the area. That is the ethnic group, and then we have these two modern political expressions of that ethnic group, the North Slave Métis Alliance for the north side of the lake and the South Slave or the Northwest Territories Métis Nation. Historians are fairly clear that this ethno-genesis arose. It may have been that some people came up from Red River, but it also arose quite independently of what was happening at Red River in its history in that it was a unique ethno-genesis centred on the Great Slave Lake area. Whether it is sometimes the GNWT or the Akaitcho, historians are pretty clear that there have been Metis centred on the Great Slave Lake for 200 or 300 years.
The Chair: Are any of your members eligible for status under the Indian Act? If so, have any of your members opted to accept Indian status?
Mr. Enge: Thank you for that question, Senator St. Germain. You definitely hit on a very touchy subject with the Metis across Canada. When Bill C-31 came along, which allowed disenfranchised Indian women to obtain their Indian status back and for their children to also secure Indian status if they wished, many of those women and their children had more or less assimilated into the Metis arena and it caused a great deal of consternation in the Northwest Territories as that new reality had to be dealt with.
The fact of the matter is that we had a considerable number of our own members who had secured Indian status under the auspices of Bill C-31. We were able to identify who had made that choice and we understood that in order for us to assert Metis rights we have to have a Metis membership. We then identified who had secured that status and had them removed. We do not accept members who have registered Indian status.
There was a time when Metis organizations did not know quite what to do about the fact that many of their members had secured Indian status, and it mostly was done surreptitiously, but they did have to deal with it. We finally got a clear understanding of whether a person who secured registered Indian status can be a Metis and an Indian at the same time.
That clarification came from a recent Supreme Court of Canada decision called Cunningham where a Cunningham family on the Peavine Metis Settlement in Alberta had secured Indian status under the auspices of Bill C-31, and the Metis council at the settlement disallowed them. They cancelled their memberships, and the Supreme Court of Canada clearly said that that is okay. You cannot be both, unless the Metis community itself says it is okay. The Metis have a right to determine their own membership, and that community said no, if you secure registered Indian status you cannot be a part of this community anymore.
Indeed, we support the notion that the Metis have a right to determine their membership and it is not an automatic right to retain Metis membership if a person decides to become an Indian.
The Chair: You said there were 500 in your population. How many have memberships?
Mr. Enge: Thank you, senator. We did a house-cleaning of our membership some time ago, two years ago this January. As far as we know, none of our remaining members have registered Indian status. Our constitution, bylaws and our membership application form do not permit that. As far as we know, there are no registered Indians under the Indian Act in our membership.
The Chair: How many members do you actually have in the North Slave Métis Alliance?
Mr. Enge: Our membership is in the 500 range.
Senator Raine: For clarification, my understanding was that once someone declared him or herself status, from a federal government point of view they could not go back to being Metis. Is that your understanding?
Mr. Enge: Yes, that is my understanding. As far as I understand, and I am no expert on the Indian Act, that is a one-way door. I happen to know that there were some former Metis members who regretted securing Indian status after the fact and wanted to look into reversing it and found that it was not possible.
Senator Raine: Your statement that the Metis communities could determine their membership is not exactly accurate because you cannot reverse that?
Senator Dyck: Cannot reverse the First Nation status.
Mr. Enge: I guess that needs clarification. What I mean is we could look at a person who obtained Indian status and say you do not belong to an Indian band, you do not belong under some kind of other treaty or land claim, and you have been a staunch supporter of our rights and community and we would like you to be a part of our community. We feel that we have a right to confer that status on them, providing that this Indian person has not taken their bundle of Aboriginal rights somewhere else.
Senator Dyck: You mentioned that Canada was doing a study in identifying historic Metis communities after the Powley decision. Have you seen that document? Do you know who they have identified? Is that document available?
Mr. Enge: Thank you for that question. Indeed, if you go to the Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada website, you will find that, somewhere embedded in it, where I found it just by accident, the 15 studies are listed, as well as which communities they did the studies on. It is definitely on the AANDC website. You can find it.
Mr. Devlin: To clarify that, I think it is actually on the Department of Justice website they mention this post-Powley investigation of 15 potential historic Metis communities. You cannot actually get the reports. We had to do an access to information request to get the report for the Great Slave Lake Metis community. It was only because we were part of that community that we got the report. They are not publicly available. It is only that they engaged in the studies that is public information.
Senator Dyck: I wonder if the committee should get that information.
The Chair: We could make the request for it if you think it would assist you.
Senator Dyck: I think it would be interesting.
Mr. Devlin: We can provide you with our copy of the report about the Great Slave Lake folks.
Senator Raine: I would like to ask a question about MÉTCOR and all your subsidiaries. Are these companies doing well? This is an economic development arm of the North Slave Métis Alliance. Is the alliance a non-profit association? Is MÉTCOR a for-profit or non-profit? How does that work?
Mr. Enge: Thank you for the question, Senator Greene Raine. Indeed, MÉTCOR is the development arm of the North Slave Métis Alliance. The North Slave Métis Alliance is a non-profit society, whereas MÉTCOR is a corporation registered under the auspices of the Canada Business Corporations Act. It is the business arm of the North Slave Métis Alliance.
You asked how our businesses are doing. We are doing okay, but not as well as we want to. We are in a building process, and our corporations are making enough money to see us live another day. Right now we are very much in a building process.
The development corporation came about because the North Slave Métis Alliance is in a unique position as Metis people in the sense that it has three impact benefit agreements, as they are known, with the three operating diamond mines in our region. We needed a development corporation in order to take advantage of the business opportunities that flow from those impact benefit agreements. We are engaged in discussions to secure even more impact benefit agreements.
I do not know if one can call this ironic or not, but certainly the mining corporations are taking a more enlightened approach to our Aboriginal rights than the Crown is, because they are dealing with us on a rights basis.
We expect that our corporations will grow over time and we look forward to having an independent source of income to help us do the things we need to do, like take the Crown to court when we have to. I think you know that one of the problems that the Metis experience across Canada is that we do not get any core funding from the federal government or, for that matter, from the territorial government, to undertake our business.
The Chair: Thank you. I think the main focus of this study is the identity of Metis, and we welcome anything you can add that would assist the committee in determining, more definitively, the Metis. You have a complex, I think, unique situation in your area, but we thank you for your presentation; it was clear and understandable. We thank you for your responses to our questions.
With that, colleagues, is there any other business?
There being none, the committee is adjourned.
(The committee adjourned.)