Dene and Métis in Norman Wells, N.W.T., are one step closer to reaching a final agreement for self-governance after signing an agreement in principle Wednesday — making them the first group representing Métis in Canada to reach that milestone.
Representatives from the Norman Wells Land Corporation and both territorial and federal governments celebrated the signing of the Self-Government Agreement-in-Principle for the Sahtu Dene and Métis of Norman Wells Wednesday evening.
The celebration was held in the community of about 800 people, 37 per cent of which self-identify as Indigenous.
“Our goal was to ensure that the rights of the Sahtu Dene and Métis of Norman Wells are preserved and protected for future generations,” said Sherry Hodgson, president of the Norman Wells Land Corporation, in a news release Wednesday.
“We have travelled many, many miles on that journey.”
Hodgson was joined by N.W.T. Premier Bob McLeod and Marc Miller, parliamentary secretary for the federal Department of Crown-Indigenous Relations, on Wednesday.
“This agreement in principle is a significant step,” said McLeod, addressing a crowd at the Royal Canadian Legion in the community Wednesday. “Today’s milestone and achievement is something that should be celebrated by all northerners.”
The agreement in principle is not legally binding; it’s a foundation for negotiations for a final agreement. CBC has not yet seen the text of the agreement-in-principle as it’s undergoing negotiations.
The Norman Wells Land Corporation — which represents the Métis and Dene in the community — will become the Tlegohli Got’ine Government, according to the latest news release. It means “the government of the people where the oil is.”
Currently, it has 300 members in and outside of Norman Wells.
The new government could have the power to collect taxes, decide on membership and run their own child and family services, among other things.
However, if the population of Norman Wells becomes 70 per cent Indigenous or more, the Town of Norman Wells could dissolve and the Tlegohli Got’ine Government will become the public government of the community, officials with the federal and territorial government confirmed to CBC.
A 1st for Métis in Canada
Though a Métis government has been suggested as a possibility elsewhere in Canada, the land corporation is the first to sign an agreement in principle to create one.
Other Métis groups in Canada have signed regional agreements granting some level of local autonomy, like the Métis Nation of Alberta, which achieved recognition from the province for eight local Métis governments in 1989.
Métis Nation British Columbia signed a memorandum of understanding with the federal government last year — the first stage on the path to a self-governance agreement.
History of Sahtu self-governance
The self-government agreements fall under the Sahtu Dene and Metis Comprehensive Land Claim Agreement, signed in 1993, which paved a way for Sahtu communities like Deline, Norman Wells, Colville Lake, Fort Good Hope and Tulita to pursue self-government agreements.
That agreement codified that the Sahtu Dene and Métis were responsible for more than 40,000 square kilometres of land in the Mackenzie River valley. The area is rich in natural resources and there are constant proposals to develop various sites there.
In 2014, the community of Deline was first to be self-governing. It took Deline more than 10 years from the agreement in principle to achieve a final agreement.
Norman Wells signed its framework agreement in 2007.
The agreement specified a timeline for these negotiations, saying both parties would make “best efforts” to sign an agreement in principle in four years.
It took three times as long.
In August last year, the Norman Wells Land Corporation, and territorial and federal governments initialed the proposed agreement in principle.
Now that the agreement in principle is signed, the next step is signing a final agreement — which could potentially take years.
Negotiations toward a final agreement are underway, according to a news release from the federal Department of Crown-Indigenous Relations in August.
The final agreement will give the Dene and Métis of Norman Wells “more control over decisions that affect their day-to-day lives,” and also describe how the new self-government will work together with both territorial and federal governments, according to a news release Wednesday.
In the release, three areas were identified as main areas of concern for negotiations going forward: how the government would be financed, how the changes would be implemented, and what taxation powers the new government would have — including whether it could levy taxes of its own. Working groups have been established on all three.
Related stories from around the North:
Canada: Dene community in Canada’s Northwest Territories celebrates self-government agreement, Eye on the Arctic
Finland: Budget cuts threaten international Sámi language cooperation, YLE News
United States: Inuit leaders to advance Indigenous human rights, Radio Canada International