A big split
Metis split at AGM

Derek Neary
Northern News Services

NNSL (Sep 15/99) - Any member of the NWT Metis Association who is registered under the Indian Act no longer holds voting privileges at the association or board levels.

An amendment to the bylaws was passed by secret ballot, 36-21 in favour, during the Metis Territorial Assembly in Fort Simpson this past weekend. The amendment reads: "Metis means: a) a person who is of mixed Indian and non-Indian descent; and who b) is not registered as an Indian under the Indian Act."

During the divisive debate, Marilyn Pike, a member of the Yellowknife Metis Nation, suggested that the contentious motion was too exclusionary.

"We always talk about unity. This is not a very unifying issue," she said. "It certainly has proven to be a divide and conquer tactic within our own little organization here -- we are dividing families."

Charlie Furlong, of Aklavik, suggested that the issue could cause an irreparable rift.

"This motion, one way or another, is going to split this membership. Who knows, maybe there will be two associations," he said, adding that small communities will be most affected by the change. The Metis Association, he said, should be fighting the government for further amendments to make Bill C-31 available to all Metis people.

Furlong, calling the amendment an insult, later turned in his honourary Metis sash and left the assembly. Enough delegates followed suit that a quorum could no longer be reached and the rest of the bylaw amendments had to be tabled until next year's annual general meeting.

George Kurszewski, chief negotiator for the South Slave Metis Tribal Council, said there was too much of a split agenda under the former system. Those under Bill C-31 are entitled to a number of benefits that Metis people don't enjoy.

"We had two groups of people in the Metis organization whose agendas didn't click," he said. Kurszewski emphasized that Metis who are registered Indians are still welcome to partake in Metis cultural events and to "call themselves Metis in their communities and be proud of it."

After the vote, new Metis Association president George Morin said he doesn't expect the debate over the issue, which has been simmering over the past 20 years, to subside yet.

"There's need for further discussion amongst the locals that decided to take this as an indication that the Metis Nation no longer wants them as part of the Nation, and that's not the case," he explained.