Who are we?
The North Slave Métis Alliance (NSMA) has been registered as a non-profit society in the Northwest Territories since 1996. We represent the Indigenous Métis of the North Slave region. The NSMA constitutes the political organization of those indigenous Métis who possess Aboriginal rights as defined under section 35 of the Canadian Constitution Act and whose ascendants used and occupied the North Slave region prior to the signing of Treaty 11 in 1921.
The NSMA’s mandate includes: The assertion, protection, and implementation of the Aboriginal rights (including rights to harvesting, land claims and consultation) of the North Slave Métis People; and the exercise of Métis responsibility to protect the environment and to promote and enhance Métis education, economic, social, and cultural development.
The following is, in part, a history of the ethno-genesis of the North Slave Métis society in the 19th-century fur trade, centred on Old Fort Rae on the North Arm of Great Slave Lake. The literature sometimes describes the Northern Métis as a transitional population, serving as a sort of rudimentary working class in the 18th and 19th-century fur trade, providing a link between the other Aboriginal peoples and the Euro-Canadian managerial class. The Northern Métis have also been characterized as an "intermediate" society that combined both Euro-Canadian and Aboriginal elements but remained socially separated from both. While these generalizations have some degree of merit, the Métis were more than a labour force and formed their own distinct society with its own culture, laws and traditions. This distinct society did not collapse with the fur trade but has persevered to this day, constantly adapting. In our roles as trappers, traders, trippers, transporters, merchants and entrepreneurs, and with expert knowledge of our Northern lands and ecology, we played a fundamental role in shaping resource use in the North Slave region. We also acted as the Hudson's Bay Company's (HBC) fur harvest managers. The ability to influence and manage land use and promote the socio-economic development of our society is a central role and right we seek to recover.
The second part of this history does not chronicle "progress" for the North Slave Métis but is a history characterized by marginalization and disempowerment at the hands of government and industry that continue to exercise control over our traditional lands. In 1921, the government of Canada, by permitting Métis in the North Slave region to participate in the negotiation and signing of Treaty 11, recognized and affirmed our Aboriginal rights to lands and resources prior to 1921, although clearly, this was not the intention. To this day, we possess Aboriginal and Treaty rights in the North Slave region, as well as an enduring concern in the welfare of our lands and resources upon which we depend.
Early North Slave Métis History
Throughout the 19th century, European and Métis marriage to Aboriginal women continued to occur but was not as common as marriage within the Métis population. Census records from the late nineteenth century show that the Great Slave Lake Métis population was overwhelmingly locally-born, with few Métis people born outside the region. Some of these people were identified by observers as “Indians” or Europeans, but the use of the term “Métis” or “halfbreed” to distinguish mixed-ancestry individuals or populations persisted throughout the 19th and early 20th century. The nature of the Great Slave Lake area, with its emphasis on subsistence wildlife harvesting and the fur trade, discouraged the accumulation of large numbers of people in settlements. The Métis played a vital role in the success of the western fur trade. They were skilled hunters and trappers and were raised to appreciate both Aboriginal and European cultures. Métis understanding of both societies and customs helped bridge cultural gaps, resulting in better trading relationships.
Groups of Métis people were evident by the end of the 19th century, particularly at Fort Resolution and Smith’s Landing (Fitzgerald), but even these communities were often depleted of the population by seasonal harvesting cycles. There is some limited documentary evidence of Métis people moving and hunting together, either in extended family groups such as the Mandevilles or the Beaulieus, or in combined groups such as the “Cayenne” that came to hunt with François Beaulieu II and the second Franklin expedition, and the “Indian Half breed” that accompanied Beaulieu’s group part way to Fort Franklin. The historical evidence tends to emphasize mixed-ancestry people hunting with “Indian” groups, probably at least in part because that was what they were expected to do if they were employed by fur traders.
The records also show that there was continuing intermarriage between members of families employed by fur-trade companies, and those who did not have full-time employment. Altogether, 19th-century documents suggest that there was some segmentation in the Métis population, but that the subgroups were not impermeable. By the turn of the 20th century, many Métis people were living truly mixed lives like the group at Smith’s Landing, “hunting, fishing and trapping during the winter, and in summer…employed” in transportation or other wage activities. Bishop Breynat referred to these people as living “an Indian life, although they may have houses at the Fort”. Again, the marriage and baptismal records speak to a group who constructed connections across geographic, occupational and ethnic lines, and this may be the most convincing evidence of self-perception of common identity.
The above summary of Métis culture and history is a paraphrased overview from Jones (2005) work. For a more detailed read, please review: Jones, G. (2005). Historical Profile of the Great Slave Lake Area’s Mixed European-Indian Ancestry Community. Unpublished manuscript, Department of Justice Canada and Office of the Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non- Status Indians. For further information, please read: The Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples. (June, 2013). “The People Who Own Themselves”: Recognition of Métis Identity in Canada”. Northwest Territory Supreme Court. (2013). Enge v. Mandeville et al, 2013 NWTSC 33. This information has been taken from Can’t Live Without Work. (1999). A companion to the comprehensive study report on the Diavik Diamonds Project, originally published in.