N.W.T. Métis Nation, territorial government at odds over taxing cabins on traditional territory

The Northwest Territory Metis Nation refuse to pay property taxes on their traditional use cabins based on their inherent Indigenous rights, while the GNWT said taxing Metis for their property doesn't affect how they exercise their Aboriginal rights.

Métis Nation is in the midst of settling land claim with territorial government

Ken Hudson, president of the Fort Smith Mé​tis Council, says that cabin owners, including himself, have been taxed for years. NWTMN owners are refusing to pay their taxes, saying that cabins are on their traditional territory, and are racking up bad credit as a result. (NWT Mé​tis Nation)

The Northwest Territory Métis Nation (NWTMN) is raising the alarm on their members being asked to pay property taxes on cabins located on unsettled Métis territory, as they work toward a land claim settlement with the territorial government.

The NWTMN raised the concerns in a release sent to media on June 12.

"The Indigenous Métis Members of the NWTMN have a right to build and utilize traditional use cabins throughout the traditional territory of the NWTMN," the release reads. "This right has always been exercised by the Indigenous Métis Members and our Indigenous Métis Members will continue to do so."

Garry Bailey, the president of the NWTMN, says he doesn't believe it's fair for the government to be taxing cabin-owning NWTMN members, adding that he expects once the land claim is negotiated, the nation will have agreed upon areas where members can build cabins for traditional use.

"They're going right to these cabins and they're assessing them," said Bailey. "They've actually sent collections agencies after them now."

And if you have rights to harvest don't you have rights to shelter yourselves while you're doing it?- Ken Hudson, Fort Smith Métis Council president 

The NWTMN remains in long-standing negotiations with the territorial government in an attempt to settle a land claim in their traditional territory, located in the N.W.T.'s South Slave region.

After signing a devolution agreement in 2013, the GNWT gained the responsibility to manage public land throughout the territory and the ability to benefit from land and resource revenue. Since then, it's been responsible for negotiating the outstanding land claim.

The lack of progress of the file has Ken Hudson, the president of the Fort Smith Métis Council, asking for a change now, rather than later.

"These tax bills are in front of us now," he said. "The claim might be five years away. We don't want our people harassed and hounded for that length of time."

Hudson owns a cabin in the Thebacha area, and says he's received notices himself.

"I think my total is up to about $1,800 or $2,000 now," he said, adding that he's refused to pay the taxes for about four years.

He says that he was one of the first people to be affected, because "I just happen to be accessible on the road system."

Hudson's cabin. He says he's accrued about $1,800 in property tax debt since his cabin was first assessed four years ago. (Submitted by Ken Hudson)

Disagreement on interpretation

According to Todd Sasaki, a communications director for the territory's finance department, "all properties in the Northwest Territories including cabins, for traditional use or for other purposes," are assessed "unless specifically exempted in an Aboriginal rights final agreement."

Sasaki confirmed the GNWT doesn't believe the NWTMN have an Aboriginal right to property tax exemptions, but that "certain exemptions may be negotiated and form part of a modern Aboriginal rights agreement," he said.

"The GNWT also believes that the taxation of cabins does not adversely affect NWTMN members ability to exercise their Aboriginal rights," he said.

Hudson disagrees. 

"We're opposed to this because it's trampling on our Aboriginal rights," he said, adding that he uses his cabin for hunting and harvesting.

"If you have rights to harvest, don't you have rights to shelter yourselves while you're doing it?"

"We're trying to deal directly with the government and the department of finance to reason with them," said Hudson, explaining that the NWTMN haven't entered into specific taxation issues while negotiating their land claim.

"Negotiations on a Final Agreement are currently underway," said Sasaki. "These Final Agreement negotiations provide NWTMN, Canada and the GNWT with an opportunity to clarify the nature and extent of any tax exemption associated with specific types of cabins."

In the meantime, the territorial government will continue to tax NWTMN cabin owners, to the frustration of Hudson and other members.

"If it has to be a negotiation issues at the negotiation table under our land claims, then say so, but withdraw the tax bills and negotiate with us before they start submitting tax bills to our people," he said.