Fort Simpson Métis / Fort Simpson
President Darlene Sibbeston
PO Box 408, Fort Simpson, NT X0E 0N0
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 Métis.
Constant travels inspired portable art – exuberant song, dance and fiddle music and skillfully decorated clothing. Some Métis formed permanent settlements around trading centres. The buffalo hunt was an important organizing feature of other, more mobile Métis groups. For eastern Métis, a fishing economy shaped settlement patterns.
There are two distinct Métis 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 “Métis.” In the northern part of the valley, however, a distinctive Métis 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 Métis families: the Sibbestons, the McPhersons and the Lafferty family. Up until the early 1950s Fort Simpson was primarily a Métis community with close to 250 Métis, 100 Dene and another 100 non-natives. Over the years many of the Métis 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 Métis 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 Métis 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 Métis 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 Métis 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 Métis 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 Métis people and aimed to break up their collectivities.
In 1899, the Treaty 8 scrip was originally intended to be nontransferable to protect the Métis against speculators but Indian Affairs records state the Métis demanded transferable scrip. Thus the scrip was issued either for $240 or 240 acres of land. The report of the Métis “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 Métis who had adopted the Indian way of life. During the negotiations for Treaties 1 to 6, some Métis were allowed to join treaty; so departmental policy was not changed in permitting the Métis 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 weren’t 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 Métis claims were made by Métis 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 Métis 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 totalling $41,280.
The history of sharp dealings by speculators while the government knowingly looked on has led the Métis of the Prairies and North to argue that their land rights have never been extinguished.
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 Métis were to have their rights extinguished in return for a scrip payment of $240.
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 Métis people within the region. At the same time, however, the Métis 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 Métis 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 Métis 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 Métis are among those peoples. What it did not make clear was who Métis people are for purposes of Section 35.
The legal definition of the Métis cannot be resolved without a Supreme Court of Canada ruling.
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