'We are all Treaty people': Deninu Kue First Nation chief wants everyone to celebrate Treaty Day

Louis Balsillie, chief of the Deninu Kue First Nation and mayor of Fort Resolution, is calling on the N.W.T. government and labour unions to give everyone in the community the day off to celebrate Treaty Day.

‘We’re so divided in our community like we’re not all together like we used to be,’ says Louis Balsillie

Louis Balsillie, centre, at Treaty Day events on Mission Island in Fort Resolution, N.W.T. He says he's upset that not everyone in the community was given the day off to celebrate. (Deninu Kue First Nation/Facebook)

The chief of the Deninu Kue First Nation and mayor of Fort Resolution, N.W.T., is calling on the territorial government and labour unions to give all community members the day off to celebrate Treaty Day — regardless of their status. 

In a letter posted to the Deninue Kue First Nation's Facebook page on June 12, Louis Balsillie expressed his frustration that only treaty card holders were given the day off to participate in Treaty Day events on June 13.

"I believe this is wrong and needs to be changed. We are all Treaty people and we should all honor and celebrate our Treaty together. This is how our children learn about our history." the letter reads. "This is how we achieve reconciliation."

Balsillie told CBC he was contacted by Métis community members who wanted to attend. He doesn't know exactly how many people were excluded from Treaty Day celebrations but said "it would be quite a bit."

While some have suggested the community hold Treaty Day on National Indigenous Peoples Day, which is a statutory holiday in the N.W.T., Balsillie noted the treaty party rather than the First Nation decides when it's celebrated.

In previous years, he added, when Treaty Day did land on National Indigenous Peoples Day, there was a conflict as the Métis usually hold a fish fry.

Part of a larger issue

Balsillie said he wanted to raise the issue as he feels it's part of a larger problem with divisions in Fort Resolution, particularly between First Nation and Métis people.

The community "just went through a big ordeal" he said, after wellness funding and programs were divided between the First Nation and Métis.

"We're so divided in our community," he said. "We're not all together like we used to be.

"We have a lot of issues we're not dealing with, and to me it's mainly the government that's putting the issues in front of us."

The territorial government responded by email that it has been their "long-standing practice" to give employees with treaty status half-day of leave with pay when official celebrations are held.

The government also gives employees who are land claim beneficiaries one day of leave per year to attend land claim celebrations in their community of residence.

'Treaty 8 was the beginning of divide and conquer' 

Northwest Territory Métis Nation President Garry Bailey says he would welcome having Treaty Day off to celebrate, but said the Métis are not treaty people.

"That's the reason that we're all Métis today, because we weren't allowed to sign into that treaty," he said.

There are divisions between Métis and Indigenous people across Canada, Bailey said, saying that treaties are a factor

Garry Bailey, president of the Northwest Territory Métis Nation, says while he'd welcome having Treaty Day off, the Métis are not treaty people. (Senate of Canada/Jade Thériault)

"Treaty 8 was the beginning of divide and conquer of our people," he said. "Since then you know we've been divided because of course we have to provide for our own people now. It's not like where we could just fight as one."

Bailey said he wants the federal government to address that division and implement the 2016 Supreme Court of Canada decision that found non-status Indians and Métis are Indians under the 1867 Constitutional Act.

"We want to remain being Métis people and give us the same programs that they give First Nations. That way we can live together jointly afterwards," he said.  

"The Métis are always left out. You know, it has caused a lot of animosity for sure. But I mean we're survivors, we've been surviving as Métis for 120 years and we'll continue to do so."  

What is Treaty Day?

Treaty Day honours treaty rights and the nation-to-nation relationship with the signing of Treaty 8 on June 21, 1899 between the Crown and First Nations of the Lesser Slave Lake Area.

The treaty covers approximately 840,000 kilometres of land home to 39 Indigenous communities including 23 in Alberta, three in Saskatchewan, six in the N.W.T. and eight in British Columbia. It's the largest treaty by area in Canada's history.

Louis Balsillie says Treaty Day in Fort Resolution was well attended and went 'really, really well.' (Deninu Kue First Nation/Facebook )

This year, Fort Resolution Treaty Day events were held on Mission Island and included treaty payments, a barbecue, youth events like a balloon bust and egg toss, and adult events like wood splitting, axe throw, nail pounding and tea boiling.

Despite his concerns, Balsillie said it was well attended and went "really, really well."

"We make it a big event ...every year we do quite a bit more."