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Mtis in the NWT

Canada has addressed Mtis issues in the NWT differently than in the rest of the country.
Many communities in the NWT have highly mixed and interrelated populations where
First Nations and Mtis people live together, so the Government of Canada wishes to
address their concerns collectively.

Joint negotiations with the Dene and Mtis of the entire Mackenzie Valley began in 1981.
An agreement was never ratified however, and the negotiations ended. Following
the cessation of that effort, Canada and regional Dene and Mtis groups began to
negotiate an agreement.

The Gwich'in land claim was settled in 1992, followed by the Sahtu land claim in 1994.
The Tlicho in the North Slave region signed their agreement in 2003. In the South Slave
region, the Akaitcho Dene decided to pursue a Treaty Land Entitlement process, instead
of a comprehensive claim. Since the Mtis are not a part of the Treaty, they could
not participate in the Akaitcho Dene process.

As a result, in 1996, Canada, the Government of the Northwest Territories, the South
Slave Mtis Tribal Council (now the Northwest Territory Mtis Nation) signed a
Framework Agreement to begin negotiations on land and resource matters, which
negotiations are still progressing.

Northwest Territory Mtis Nation


European fur traders and settlers began to associate with and marry indigenous people
soon after they arrived in the Americas. In the early years, children of those unions were
usually raised in one culture - either European or Aboriginal. But as time passed, the
offspring of mixed marriages began to combine elements of both cultures, to produce
something original - new Aboriginal peoples, the Mtis.

Constant travels inspired portable art - exuberant song, dance and fiddle music and
skillfully decorated clothing. Some Mtis formed permanent settlements around trading
centres. The buffalo hunt was an important organizing feature of other, more mobile
Mtis groups. For eastern Mtis, a fishing economy shaped settlement patterns.

There are two distinct Mtis populations in the Dehcho region. In the southern parts of
Mackenzie Valley the cultural heritage of the mixed-blood people has been drawn from
the French-Indian fur trade culture of the southern Prairies. It can, therefore, properly be
called "Mtis." In the northern part of the valley, however, a distinctive Mtis society did
not take root even though there were many people of mixed blood in the region.

Within Fort Simpson itself there are three main Mtis families: the Sibbestons, the
McPhersons and the Lafferty family. Up until the early 1950s Fort Simpson was

primarily a Mtis community with close to 250 Mtis, 100 Dene and another 100 non-
natives. Over the years many of the Mtis families were forced to move away due to lack
of work.

The history of Metis Scrip

When the west and the Northern parts of Canada encompassing the Prairie provinces as
well the Northwest Territories were being settled by Europeans there was an idea that
Indian and Mtis claims to the land should be dealt with prior to settlement by Europeans.

Vast tracts of land in the prairies were to have been distributed to the Mtis under the
Manitoba Act, 1870 and the Dominion Lands Act of 1879, by means of a system known
as 'scrip'.

As early as 1900 the federal government knew that the scrip system failed the Mtis and
yet they continued to implement it. In the end, as a result of rampant speculation, out of
14,849 money scrip notes, which were issued 84.6 per cent or 12,560 of them were
acquired by speculators. Further, only one per cent of the land scrip originally intended
for the Metis remained in Metis hands.

Often the land that was being offered to the Mtis was so far distant from their home base
that their only real option was to sell the scrip for whatever they could get. Local land
speculators were ready and willing to buy - at bargain basement prices.

Moreover, the scrip system was not intended to result in a true Mtis land base. Scrip was
given to individuals, entitling them to settle with their families on parcels of land. It was
nothing like the reserve system, where First Nations shared an exclusive territory. The
government of the day feared the growing numbers, economic strength and fire power of
Mtis people and aimed to break up their collectivities.

In 1899, the Treaty 8 scrip was originally intended to be nontransferable to protect the
Mtis against speculators but Indian Affairs records state the Mtis demanded
transferable scrip. Thus the scrip was issued either for $240 or 240 acres of land. The
report of the Mtis Half-breed Commission for Sept. 30, 1899 indicated 1,195 scrip
certificates for money, representing $286,800 and 48 land scrip certificates, covering
11,520 acres were issued mostly in the northern Alberta (Lesser Slave Lake) region.

Treaty 8 was signed in 1899 and an addition to the Treaty (otherwise known as an
adhesion) was signed in 1900, and the policy of the federal Indian Affairs Department at
the time was to give treaty rather than scrip to Mtis who had adopted the Indian way of
life. During the negotiations for Treaties 1 to 6, some Mtis were allowed to join treaty;
so departmental policy was not changed in permitting the Mtis of the Treaty 8 area to
join treaty.

Many people who took scrip were living the aboriginal way of life, but took the scrip
because treaty people werent provided with individual parcels of land. It was next to
impossible to run a business in those days without land so many people took the scrip.

During the 1900 addition to the 1899 treaty, 381 Mtis claims were made by Mtis in the
Fort Resolution and Fort St. John areas. Out of the 381 claims made, 229 were allowed.

The Dehcho Dene were not the only ones affected by the imposition of Treaty 11,
provision was made for extinguishing the aboriginal title of the mixed-blood population
within the area covered by Treaty 11. However, in this case the Mtis were not given a
choice of land or cash.

Much of the land scrip which had been provided after the earlier treaty negotiations had
found its way into the hands of speculators, and the Treaty Commissioner stated that he
did not "propose to extend the difficulties and the abuses which were practiced when
scrip was given out before." Scrip was therefore given in cash only, at $240 per claimant.

In Treaty 11, 172 claims for scrip were allowed totaling $41,280.

The history of sharp dealings by speculators while the government knowingly looked on
has led the Mtis of the Prairies and North to argue that their land rights have never been

One important effect of Treaty 11 on the mixed-blood people was to create and
emphasize divisions between them and the Indian population, a division which until then
had been blurred. According to the treaty, Dehcho Dene were to become Treaty Indians,
and the Mtis were to have their rights extinguished in return for a scrip payment of

Thus at the time of the signing of the treaty, the gap between racial and ethnic groups,
which had always existed to some extent, was made much greater, and the division of
races was reinforced even more by the policies of the government under the treaty. In the
schools, under the game regulations, and later in the provision of government-subsidized
housing, it mattered very much whether a person was officially a Treaty Indian or of
mixed-blood. Thus the treaty process had created and made barriers that would
subsequently prove very difficult to get past.

While it is true that the treaty system divided the people, it is important to note that the
Dehcho First Nations have voiced at least two resolutions supporting the Mtis people
within the region. At the same time, however, the Mtis Nations across Canada continue
to have difficulty in getting the federal government to properly fund their political
institutions and representative bodies.

The government of Canada should deal with Mtis people, like all other Aboriginal
peoples, on a nation-to-nation basis. The Constitution Act, 1982 already recognizes them

as Aboriginal peoples, but the government has declined to extend most of its Aboriginal
programs and services to them.

Another identity issue that divides Mtis people to some extent relates to their legal status
under Section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982.

That historic amendment to the constitution of Canada recognized and affirmed existing
rights of the "Aboriginal peoples of Canada" and certified that the Mtis are among those
peoples. What it did not make clear was who Mtis people are for purposes of Section 35.

The legal definition of the Mtis cannot be resolved without a Supreme Court of Canada

Sources: Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, Albert Lafferty, President Fort
Providence Mtis Nation, Marie Lafferty, President Fort Simpson Mtis Nation