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1990: Dene, Métis sign historic land claim agreement

The Story

A week ago, the protracted negotiations almost fell apart. But today, it looks like the Dene and Métis of the Northwest Territories' Mackenzie Valley will sign a long-awaited final land claim agreement with the federal government. The accord would give the Native groups control of more than 180,000 sq. km of land, plus $500 million over 20 years. In this clip from CBC's Midday, host Valerie Pringle talks to Dene leader Bill Erasmus and Métis leader Gary Bohnet about the potential deal. There's "a general feeling of optimism that we're going to have this deal initialled today," says Bohnet. But even if it is signed, Erasmus adds, "there's still a heck of a lot of work to do."

Medium: Television
Program: Midday
Broadcast Date: April 9, 1990
Guests: Gary Bohnet, Bill Erasmus
Host: Ralph Benmergui
Interviewer: Valerie Pringle
Duration: 8:03

Did You know?

• Dene are Aboriginal people of the Northwest Territories.

• The Métis people began as the offspring of white fathers and Aboriginal mothers during Canada's early settlement years, and their descendents soon evolved into their own distinct Aboriginal community.

• Numerous treaties concerning "Indian" land were signed in Canada between 1781 and the early 20th century. These agreements generally had Native people giving up title to their land to Canada's white settlers in exchange for protection on a "reserve." They were also often given other free services such as education and medical care. Unfortunately, the two parties frequently had different ideas on what they had agreed upon. The settlers typically considered it an economic transaction while the Native people thought they were signing friendship treaties.

• In 1899, the Native people living in the Mackenzie Valley of the Northwest Territories signed Treaty 8, which included what is now northern Alberta, northwest Saskatchewan and a small part of the Northwest Territories. In 1921 they signed Treaty 11, which comprised most of the Mackenzie Valley area of the Northwest Territories.

• During the 1970s, the Dene and Métis of Mackenzie Valley came together to challenge the interpretations of Treaties 8 and 11. They argued that the federal government hadn't fulfilled treaty obligations. They also argued that the treaties didn't actually represent a surrender of native land, since the native people believed they were simply signing peace treaties.

• The 1970s saw numerous similar challenges from Aboriginal groups across Canada.

• The Dene and Métis wanted resolution of a number of issues, including:
- Land ownership.
- Control over non-renewable resources.
- Protection of hunting, fishing and trapping rights.
- Preservation of native language and culture.
- Compensation for "past use" of land by non-Native people.

• Official negotiations between Dene/Métis people and the federal government began in 1981. In September 1988, an agreement-in-principle was reached by Dene/Métis people, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and the Northwest Territories' government.

• There was a March 31, 1990, deadline set for ratifying a final agreement. They missed this deadline after talks broke down. Contentious issues included entrenchment of self-government in the Constitution - which many Native people wanted but the government said it couldn't offer at the time - and treaty rights. The government wanted Dene/Métis people to give up certain treaty rights in exchange for the new deal, but many Dene/Métis felt they shouldn't have to do so.

• On April 9, 1990, the parties did sign the final agreement. In addition to the land and compensation, the final agreement also included subsurface mineral rights to 10,000 sq. km, plus special hunting, fishing and trapping rights and a share of resource royalties. The Dene/Métis people agreed to give up the rights obtained in treaties 8 and 11.

• The Dene and Métis leaders were happy with the outcome and recommended that their people vote to ratify it. In an April 11, 1990, Globe and Mail article, Dene leader Bill Erasmus called April 9 a historic date. "I think what we're doing is committing ourselves to a process, and I think we're guaranteeing a future for our people."

• The optimism was short-lived. Later that year, several groups within the Dene/Métis didn't want to ratify the agreement as it stood. The government announced it would re-negotiate claims with each of the five regions of the Mackenzie Valley separately. In 1992, the Gwich'in Dene/Métis settled their land claims and in 1994 the Sahtu people settled theirs. The Tlicho (Dogrib) signed a combined land claim and self-governance agreement that came into effect in 2005. The Deh Cho's land claims remain unsettled (2006), and the Akaitcho chose to seek fulfilment of their original treaty rights instead.


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