Nowhere negotiations?
Outdated mandates jeopardizing Metis land claims negotiations

Darren Campbell
Northern News Services

NNSL (Sep 21/98) - In 1997 all was well with the lands and resources negotiations going on between the South Slave Metis Tribal Council and the federal and Northwest Territories governments.

But 1998 has been a different story. Frustrated by the stalled talks, the council's chief negotiator, George Kurszewski, is stating their negotiations are at a crossroads.

Kurszewski said they are at a crossroads because the mandates of both the federal and territorial chief negotiators are out of date with current government policy and aboriginal case law.

"We are concerned. We believe the Metis have to be treated with fairness and we feel that's lacking in our process right now," said Kurszewski. "This is quite a bit different than how we felt a year ago."

The problems began for the council, which represents indigenous Metis from Fort Smith, Hay River and Fort Resolution, came when they tabled harvesting and municipal lands chapters during negotiations.

He said the mandates of territorial negotiator Bob Patterson and federal negotiator Philippe Dore don't reflect Canada's stated approach to aboriginal peoples inherent right to self-government.

Kurszewski said one example of how the outdated mandates have stalled negotiations lies in the GNWT's 1996 policy statement in the area of aboriginal harvesting of wildlife.

That statement gives the power for aboriginal harvesting to the minister of Aboriginal Affairs. But the South Slave Metis believe federal policy and law gives aboriginal governments jurisdiction over lands and resources in their territory.

However, he said Patterson hasn't been able to address this during negotiations because his mandate does not allow him to discuss self-government issues.

Kurszewski said he has met with both negotiators the past two months and indications are good the mandates will be updated. He said that is essential for the success of the negotiations for the South Slave Metis.

"If they (mandates) contain enough principles and flexibility I can see our negotiations getting back on track," said Kurszewski.

Two negotiation sessions scheduled for October should tell the council if they will get back on track. He said if things don't go well the Metis will find themselves between a rock and a hard place.

"And what the Metis do when they are between a rock and a hard place is anyone's guess," said Kurszewski.

The Northwest Territories Minister of Aboriginal Affairs, Jim Antoine and Patterson could not be reached for comment by press time.