A new welcome sign has been erected in Hay River, but it has resulted in anything but warm feelings among those on opposite sides of the political message it is sending.
In fact, it has sparked a somewhat heated disagreement between the Northwest Territory Metis Nation (NWTMN), which put up the sign, and K’atlodeeche First Nation (KFN), which wants it taken down immediately.
The large sign at the junction of Highway 5 and Highway 2 welcomes motorists to the “traditional territory” of the Northwest Territory Metis Nation.
“I think it’s a great move to put up a sign that’s letting the territories know that there’s a Metis Nation here,” said Garry Bailey, president of the Northwest Territory Metis Nation.
Bailey was speaking at a Nov. 22 gathering at the sign by about 20 people, including the presidents of the Metis Councils in Hay River, Fort Resolution and Fort Smith.
The Metis Nation president said the sign marks the beginning of Metis traditional territory that stretches to Fort Resolution and Fort Smith.
Bailey was measured in his comments when asked about a call from K’atlodeeche First Nation to remove the sign.
“I don’t have a reaction, actually,” he said. “It’s unfortunate that other Aboriginal people want to waste their time fighting against us. We’re Aboriginal. We’ve been here for hundreds of years. We’re not saying this is our territory only. We know it’s a shared territory. We’re well aware of that, and we have full respect for other First Nations.”
Bailey was adamant that the sign, which was erected on Nov. 20, will stay.
“We’re not taking it down,” he said. “We have no intention of taking it down.”
Bailey said the sign is not against other groups.
On Nov. 21, KFN issued a news release opposing and condemning the “provocative” installation of the sign welcoming visitors to the ‘traditional territory’ of the Northwest Territory Metis Nation.
“In fact, this is not the NWTMN traditional territory and never has been,” the KFN release stated.
It also contained a call from Chief April Martel for the NWTMN to remove the sign.
“KFN has and will fight the ongoing attempt by the NWT Metis Nation to claim lands that do not traditionally belong to them,” said Martel. “If the sign is not removed in the immediate future, KFN will be taking decisive action to address this situation.”
An attempt by The Hub to get further comment from Martel was unsuccessful.
The news release added that the sign was erected against the wishes and advice of KFN, while claiming the Metis Nation is not respecting treaty rights and the inherent Aboriginal rights of KFN members and their ancestors who have travelled and lived within their traditional territory “long before” any NWTMN Metis moved to Hay River.
KFN noted that, upon hearing of plans for the sign in late August, it wrote a letter to Trevor Beck, president of the Hay River Metis Government Council, to say that it was a “disrespectful action and one that KFN cannot tolerate.”
In a Nov. 22 statement released on Facebook, Beck charged that KFN’s news release contained “defamatory statements” and is libel as the information is untrue and lowers the reputation of the NWTMN, for which it could have a legal cause for action against KFN.
In particular, Beck objected to KFN’s statements that the area in question is not NWTMN traditional territory and never has been.
“The substance of the news release may be considered hate speech which is a criminal offence under the Criminal Code of Canada as the news release may be regarded as promoting hatred against the NWTMN as an identifiable group,” said Beck in his statement.
Plus, he claimed the news release may also be a violation of the NWT Human Rights Act as it is likely to expose the NWTMN and its members to hatred based upon their ancestry.
When contacted about Beck’s statement, Bailey said the NWTMN had obtained a legal opinion on the KFN news release, but would not comment further.
“I don’t want to be fighting with any Aboriginal groups,” he said. “I think our time is better spent fighting with the right people and forwarding our claims.”
The NWTMN has been negotiating a land claim with the federal government and the GNWT since 1996.
During the gathering at the sign on Nov. 22, Bailey noted Metis have rights protected by Section 35 of the Canadian Constitution of 1982, and also have inherent rights.
“We’re pretty safe that we know what we’re doing and are confident in what comes,” he said.
Bailey also noted the NWTMN plans to erect two more such signs in the South Slave, probably next year – one in Fort Smith and another in Fort Resolution.
“It’s not for people to take offence to,” he said. “Hopefully, someday we can all get back together and work together like we used to. We always used to be one people. Some people seem to have forgotten that.”
KFN has a sign welcoming people to its traditional territory at the NWT-Alberta border.
The band considers its traditional territory starts somewhere at the border and its eastern boundary is the junction of Highway 5 and Highway 6, under an agreement with Deninu Ku’e First Nation in Fort Resolution.