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New 4-year term for Metis alliance

April Robinson
Northern News Services
Published Wednesday, April 15, 2009

SOMBA K'E/YELLOWKNIFE - A new four-year term for North Slave Metis Alliance board members will add stability to the organization, allowing it to proceed with land claims, according to board president Bill Enge.

"It's everything to us," said Enge of the claims. "It's a recognition that this is our home. It's a recognition of our aboriginal rights to be here."

NNSL Photo/Graphic

Bill Enge was acclaimed president of the North Slave Metis Alliance at the group's recent annual meeting. He has been president since 2004. - April Robinson/NNSL photo

Enge and six other board members were acclaimed at the annual general assembly on March 28.

The group voted to adjust its bylaws so members serve four-year terms instead of facing election by the alliance's some 500 members each year.

Two candidates seeking the presidency were disqualified. North Douglas, a former president, and Frank Campsell, both of Behchoko, missed the nomination form deadline by 25 minutes. One of them did not have enough eligible supporting signatures, Enge said.

Attempts to reach Douglas were unsuccessful.

The new governance structure will add reliability so the alliance can get things done, Enge said. At the March annual meeting, the alliance identified starting a land claims process as a top priority. Enge said a piece of land hasn't been identified.

The organization, established in 1996 to foster business and employment among Metis people in the North Slave region, has had a rocky past.

In 1998, Enge took the alliance to court for revoking memberships. A judge ruled in 2003 the alliance violated its own constitution by kicking out 87 members.

In 2001, the alliance took the Dogrib First Nation to court to block the Dogrib land claim until Metis rights were recognized. The suit failed, and the organization owed legal fees to the parties involved.

Enge said uncertainty with membership loyalty, the lawsuits and financial instability have prevented the group from proceeding with land claims. He became president in November, 2004 and eventually settled the Dogrib suit fees out of court.

"We were on the brink of total collapse," he said.

Now, four years later, the organization is finally in a good fiscal position, he said.

Financial statements from 2008 show revenue of more than $3.7 million from sources such as diamond mine agreements. Expenses were a little higher than $2.8 million.

In 2007, auditors couldn't account for more than $141,000 in travel and honorarium payments. Enge said it was because receipts couldn't be found on time, and the group refused to disclose minutes from in-camera executive meetings.

The economic downturn has put a significant dent in the organization's revenues. The alliance provides trucking and sells shotcrete - a type of concrete - to the diamond mines. Enge pledges the group will forge ahead, reviewing next steps to assert land claims and improving business with the mines.