N.W.T. Métis Nation signs AIP, draws outrage from other groups

The N.W.T. Métis Nation and the federal government have been negotiating a land claim for over two decades. In July, the two sides signed an agreement-in-principle that gives the Métis Nation hunting and harvesting rights to what it claims as traditional territory.

Akaitcho, North Slave Métis Alliance say they weren't properly consulted before deal signed

Bill Enge of the North Slave Métis Alliance calls the federal government's agreement-in-principal with the N.W.T. Métis Nation 'tantamount to Métis ethnic cleansing.' (CBC)

Aboriginal leaders in the North and South Slave areas of the Northwest Territories say they are outraged the federal government chose to sign an agreement-in-principle (AIP) with the N.W.T. Métis Nation.

The N.W.T. Métis Nation and the federal government have been negotiating a land claim in the southern part of the territory for over two decades. Last month, the two sides signed an AIP that gives the Métis Nation hunting and harvesting rights to what it says is its traditional territory south of Great Slave Lake.

"The Akaitcho Chiefs have authorized our legal counsel to bring a motion to Federal Court for a ruling that Canada acted improperly in signing this AIP," says Deninu Kue First Nation Chief Louis Balsillie.

In 2012, the Akaitcho Dene First Nations launched a federal court case against the federal government and the N.W.T. Métis Nation. It calls on a federal judge to halt negotiation between the two groups.

In court documents, the Akaitcho argue the AIP interferes with its own land claim talks and that the Métis have no aboriginal right to the land.

Overlapping claims

Both groups are laying claim to some of the same areas around the communities of Hay River, Fort Resolution and Fort Smith.

In court documents, the Akaitcho argue Canada had a duty to consult with them before they began negotiating an agreement with the N.W.T. Métis Nation.

"While a consultation process did take place, the concerns of the Akaitcho Dene First Nations were not fully addressed," the group said in a press release.

The federal government announced it had signed the AIP with the N.W.T. Métis Nation on July 31.

"The federal government signed this AIP on the eve of dropping the writ for a general election knowing full well that we have a court proceeding underway," says Lutsel K'e Chief Felix Lockhart.

'Frog-marched down there'

The Akaitcho aren't the only First Nation that takes issue with the AIP.

The North Slave Métis Alliance, the governing body for Métis north of Great Slave Lake, says it also wasn't consulted.

Bill Enge, says because many of his members' ancestral heritage comes from south of the lake, they will be forced to be a part of the N.W.T. Métis Nation land claim. The North Slave Métis recently received the right to hunt a small portion of Bathurst caribou. Enge says his members will have to give up that right if they're forced to join the N.W.T. Métis Nation land claims.

"What the Crown has done is say, 'Whether you like it or not, you and those like you will be going into that land claim. You are going to be frog-marched down there and we're taking you right out of Yellowknife,'" Enge says.

"This whole thing is tantamount to Métis ethnic cleansing by taking the Métis out of the North Slave by slippery methods."

Claim optional, Métis Nation says

But the N.W.T. Métis Nation says that's not the case. It says Métis will have a choice whether they want to join the land claim.

"The enrolment of eligible indigenous Métis will be voluntary in accordance with a resulting final agreement," an official with the group told CBC News in an email. "Enrolment will happen after the final agreement is ratified by eligible indigenous Métis." 

Enge says the North Slave Métis Alliance will be launching a court case, challenging the legitimacy of the AIP.

The Akaitcho chiefs say they will continue with their court case. They say they will wait until after October's federal election to ask Ottawa to put a stop to the negotiations.