New regional Métis organization in the works in N.W.T.

Proposed collective would represent Mackenzie Valley Métis, wherever they might reside now.

Fort Norman Métis president Richard Hardy calls on Mackenzie River Métis to unite

Fort Norman Métis president Richard Hardy signed an open letter published in a local newspaper proposing a new regional Métis organization called Mackenzie River Métis Collective. (Alex Brockman/CBC)

The president of the Fort Norman Métis Community wants to know if Mackenzie River Métis are interested in being part of a new regional Métis organization.

A full-page open letter published as an advertisement in the Sept. 3, 2018, issue of the News North newspaper proposes the tentatively named Mackenzie River Métis Collective.

The Mackenzie River Métis include the original Métis inhabitants of communities found along the Mackenzie River and their descendants, wherever they may live today. The organization's goal would be to "obtain benefits and programs" similar to those available to First Nations and Inuit communities.

The letter, signed by Fort Norman Métis president Richard Hardy, opens with the premise that the Mackenzie River Métis "retain many Aboriginal rights, as a collective Indigenous entity, under the laws of Canada."

"We realized in order to deal with the effects of the Daniels decision that we need a bigger voice than what we have as the Fort Norman Métis Community," Hardy said in an interview with CBC News.

"We're saying let's all come together and put a common voice forward."

Common cause

Before the collapse of the Dene Métis land claim in the 1990s, all Métis in the Northwest Territories were represented by the Métis Nation, Hardy explained. Since then, Métis in the North Slave region are represented by the North Slave Métis alliance and Métis south of Great Slave Lake by the new Northwest Territories Métis Nation.

But the Métis along the Mackenzie River from Fort Providence up to Inuvik do not belong to any collective organization, which is what Hardy is looking to change.

"Hopefully, when we're successful, we can make an alliance with the North Slave Métis Alliance and the Métis Nation N.W.T. to put forward a common voice for Métis in the Northwest Territories to deal with the impact of the Daniels decision," he said.

There are three primary issues Hardy says he's concerned about:

  • Non-insured health benefits.
  • Post-secondary supports for Métis students.
  • Economic development assistance programs.

"It's a hodgepodge of what's out there. If, and when, we succeed in convincing the federal government that we should be treated the same as the [Status] Indian and Inuit people in Canada, then those benefits will accrue to us no matter where we live in Canada then," he said.

One example of this is the Métis health benefit plan, Hardy said. It's available to Métis living in the Northwest Territories, but people who leave the territory lose their eligibility, he said.

"We feel this should be a national plan provided by the federal government, so no matter where we're living we'll continue to get those benefits."

It wouldn't make sense for the Métis people living along the Mackenzie River to join up with either of the established Métis groups, Hardy explained. That's because both the North Slave Métis Alliance and the Northwest Territories Métis Nation are working on land claims in a specific geographic area, while Métis groups along the Mackenzie River region are already part of settled or ongoing land claims.

"We get along the Mackenzie River, we're part of the Sahtu claim, the Gwich'in claim, the Fort Providence, Fort Simpson and Fort Liard Métis are part of the Dehcho process," Hardy said.

"I don't see us ever coming back together under a common organization, but we can come together to make common cause on the issues that we've been talking about here."

Different needs

Garry Bailey, president of the Northwest Territories Métis Nation, is supportive.

Bailey said it's important Métis are represented by people who live in the region, instead of a national organization in Ottawa.

"We have different needs in our communities and nobody from Ottawa can relate to how we live here in small communities," Bailey said. "It's totally different."

Whether there are enough Mackenzie River Métis interested in forming a collective remains to be seen. Hardy is collecting signatures to see what the numbers could look like.

According to the advertisement, a gathering is scheduled for Sept. 19. No location was described.

With files from Katie Toth