Akaitcho jurisdictional dispute fires up

A jurisdictional dispute has erupted between the Akaitcho and the south slave Metis and relations have hit a new low.

A jurisdictional dispute has erupted between the Akaitcho and the south slave Metis and relations have hit a new low.

At issue is the Akaitcho insistence that Metis should be granted no Aboriginal treaty rights within Akaitcho territory.

The dispute was triggered by a letter the Akaitcho sent to former Indian Affairs Minister Robert Nault late last year. In it, Dettah Chief Peter Liske writes that it's only been since the late 1970s that some people in Akaitcho territory have started identifying themselves as Metis.

Liske calls on Nault for assurance that negotiations with the Metis will not lead to constitutionally-protected treaty or land rights or rights to hunt and fish.

In response, Metis leaders called the Akaitcho's letter shocking and back-stabbing. The Metis are asking for hunting and fishing rights within the area being claimed by the Akaitcho.

Rob Tordiff is president of the NWT Metis Nation, which represents the Metis of the south Slave.

"We've made sure we account for Akaitcho interests, but we can only really do that most effectively if they're aware of the steps we've taken," he says. "That'll only take place when they agree to have these discussions with us."

Tordiff says the south Slave Metis negotiations with the federal government include protection of Akaitcho rights.

"Our people, they're intermarried, they have children together, they hunt together, they're on the land together, they live together," he says. "To have a letter that bears the tone of what we've seen in the three letters that have been sent out is hurtful. The response that's come from within the N.W.T. Metis Nation demonstrates just how deep that hurt is."

Tordiff says so far, the Akaitcho have not been willing to sit down and discuss the issue of overlapping jurisdiction. The Akaitcho chiefs were unavailable for comment on the issue.

Despite the reaction to the initial letter, last month Liske sent an almost identical letter to Nault's successor, Andy Mitchell. Liske referred questions about the letter to Akaitcho chief negotiator Sharon Venne, who says she needs permission from all Akaitcho chiefs before speaking publicly.

Calls to find out whether the chiefs had given their permission were not returned.