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Priceless/pricey memories

Paul Bickford
Northern News Services

Fort Smith (Mar 28/05) - A well-known elder and the Northwest Territory Metis Nation are seeing things differently over a collection of historic photos.

Joe Mercredi of Enterprise says the Metis Nation has not lived up to a handshake agreement to pay $25,000 for 400 historic photos, three boxes of slides and four reels of Super 8 film.

Joe Mercredi, a Metis elder from Enterprise, displays some of his thousands of historic photos. - Paul Bickford/NNSL photo

"They reneged on our deal," he claims, noting he received an initial payment of $3,000.

Mercredi says he plans to contact a lawyer to have the collection returned to him.

Rob Tordiff, Metis Nation president, says the organization did buy some photos from Mercredi a couple of years ago, but there are no outstanding payments due.

"I'm not really sure what Joe is talking about," Tordiff says, adding he doesn't recall how many pictures were involved or the price, although he says $3,000 is probably close.

"There's no $25,000 deal," Tordiff states.

Aside from the purchase price, there is also an issue of who actually owns some of the photos.

Mercredi says, when he asked Tordiff for the remaining money, "He stated the photos belonged to people in Fort Smith."

However, Mercredi estimates no more than 10 photos are of Fort Smith residents or their relatives.

"They were given to me," he adds.

Tordiff says many people in Fort Smith would like to have their family pictures back, noting many are originals.

"It seems to me that some of the pictures he's got don't belong to him," Tordiff says of Mercredi.

"In many cases, they were borrowed and never returned." Tordiff says, when the purchase was made, Mercredi was asked to catalogue his remaining photos and other purchases might have been possible. However, the rightful owners of any photo would have to be determined.

"We have to be assured they're his photos," Tordiff explains.

Mercredi says he has been collecting photographs since 1970. Some date back to the early 1900s, he says, adding all are of the Western Arctic from Fort Chipewyan to Tuktoyaktuk.

In all, he estimates he has about 60,000 photos. "I've got boxes and boxes of photos at home."

Mercredi says the photos now with the Metis Nation are valuable because many are rare images of Metis ancestors. "I had pictures of oldtimers who are no longer alive."

Also among the 400 photos are ones of steamboats and other historic scenes.

The film is also unique, Mercredi says, explaining it's the history of the Northern Transportation Company Limited from 1948-57 as recorded by a ship's carpenter.

Of the collection sold to the Metis Nation, he says, "To me, it is a treasure."