We, the Indigenous Métis of the South Slave region, declare and affirm that:
- we are a distinct Métis Nation within Canada;
- we have Aboriginal rights to lands, resources and governance throughout our traditional territory protected under section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982; and
- we have a right of self-determination.
We hold these rights because we are aboriginal people of the Mackenzie and Athabasca river basins. Our ancestors lived on these lands, which the Creator provided, and governed themselves according to our own laws and customs, from time before memory.
We continue to live in harmony with nature and respect the bounties of the land.
We have lived in friendship, peace and harmony with our Aboriginal neighbours, in accordance with the Great Law that was given to our Aboriginal ancestors by the Creator. We, as Métis people, have a distinct history, culture and way of life separate and independent from the First Nation people, with whom we have had and continue to have relations. We honour our Aboriginal ancestors and relations.
Clearly, we are distinct from First Nation peoples. We, the Indigenous Métis of the South Slave, are direct descendants of the first people of European heritage to reach this region, well before Canada became a nation in 1867.
We have traditionally used, occupied and managed the land and resources throughout our traditional territory before Government unilaterally imposed its control and management over our traditional territory and resources. The traditional territory of the Métis Nation encompasses the whole of the Northwest Territories and the northern parts of the provinces bordering the Northwest Territories.
Before the fall of Quebec in 1759, French and mixed blood “coureurs de bois” traveled into the Athabasca country, living with First Nation families on the land. When North West Company traders explored north to Great Slave Lake in the 1780s, they met the family of the French/Dene “coureur de bois” Francois Beaulieu I and his Chipewyan wife Ethiba.
This family was only one of several Métis families established in the region in the 1700s. Because of their presence, trading companies set up posts in the area of what is now Fort Resolution, beginning in the 1780s. All of the Indigenous Métis are descended from one or more of these families.
Beaulieu and his son, Francois Beaulieu II, along with other Métis families including, but not limited to, the Mandeville, Cayen, Houle, Poitras, Tourangeau, St. Germain, Mercredi, Lafferty and Heron families, were vital players in building the country that was to become Canada. Métis played a nationally significant role in northern exploration, the fur trade and Treaty-making. At the same time, our ancestors were creating a new nation of Métis.
Francois Beaulieu I was one of Alexander Mackenzie’s voyageurs on his epic journeys down the Mackenzie River to the Arctic Ocean in 1789 and, in 1792, up the Peace River and over the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Ocean. His brother Jacques was an interpreter for explorer/trader Peter Pond.
Francois Beaulieu II and Francois Baptiste “le Camarade” de Mandeville were advisors, guides, hunters and interpreters for Sir John Franklin’s successful expeditions to Great Bear Lake and the Arctic Coast. Beaulieu mapped the route to the mouth of the Coppermine River for Franklin, via the Marion and Camsell Rivers and Great Bear Lake, Beaulieu also brought Father Faraud, the first priest north of 60°, to Fort Resolution in 1852.
Beaulieu II resisted the Hudson’s Bay Company monopoly in Rupert’s Land, travelling to trade as far as the Red River settlement in what is now Manitoba. He and his clan were based at Salt River, now known as Thebacha, from where they hunted buffalo. Beaulieu II had a camp at the Salt Plains (within the area now known as Wood Buffalo National Park). He extracted salt from the salt plains for trade, and farmed, as well as operated the trading post. Beaulieu II was considered a leader of the Dogrib people north of Great Slave Lake, as well as a head trader of the Chipewyan south of Great Slave Lake. He traded with the Yellowknives, and as far west as Fort Simpson.
Mandeville, who was allied by marriage to the distinguished Dogrib chief Edzo and a close friend of the famous Yellowknives chief Akaitcho, helped make peace among the warring Dene peoples. The Mandevilles lived and hunted for trade as well as domestic use, in the Thelon River area by the 1830’s. “Le Camarade” described and mapped the portage route via the upper Thelon to the Back River for the explorer George Back. Mandeville helped build Fort Reliance for Back in 1833. The Mandevilles also founded the village at Little Buffalo River, near the present site of Fort Resolution.
These were not the only posts and villages the early Métis founded. In 1868, Joseph King Beaulieu, son of Francois Beaulieu II, founded a trading post at Fond du Lac (Snowdrift), near the site of the present community of Lutsel K’e. In 1874, King Beaulieu built the trading post at the last rapid on the Slave River, now known as Fort Smith, from the portage which started at Fitzgerald. Other communities founded by Métis in the same era included Jean River, Rocher River and Smith’s Landing/Fitzgerald.
The Métis Nation of the South Slave arose during the same era as the Métis fur trade communities from the American Midwest-Great Lakes region and the historic Métis Nation of the Canadian prairies. Our Métis Nation had trade and marriage links to those communities. Many of us are related to Métis people from the Great Lakes or Red River who came north in the 1700’s and 1800’s. The Lafferty family is one distinguished family who can trace their heritage back to the American Great Lakes Métis Communities, via Red River, Fort Chipewyan and Fort Resolution.
We honour our Métis women, who were among the first northern Aboriginal women to receive a Euro-Canadian education. Some, such as Francois Beaulieu’s daughter Catherine, were educated at Red River and returned to act as educators and catechists. Those who were the wives of traders were often midwives and healers. They were also known for their strength of character and independence. Catherine Beaulieu had her own dog team; and made lengthy journeys around Great Slave Lake to trade with the people.
We are proud Métis, known historically as “the free people”, or “gens libres” in Michif French. As early as 1862, Francois Beaulieu II identified himself to Father Emile Petitot as “a Métis born and bred in the woods”. He lived to be 101 years old, and left many descendants. The priests referred to him, fittingly, as “Le Patriarche” – the patriarch or founding father of the Indigenous Métis.
Métis knowledge of the waterways of the region and development of its transportation routes and methods have a solid foundation in Canada’s history. We were famous long-distance canoemen, who showed traders new and shorter routes to the fur country. After 1826, we were York boatmen, and captains of brigades. And, from 1883 when steam boats came to the region, we were boat-builders, woodcutters, trackers, deckhands, and pilots like the legendary Johnny Berens.
Some of our ancestors fought in the battles for Métis rights to protect their traditional land on the Prairies. Most of the Indigenous Métis of the South Slave were not part of the Red River Métis resistance, but regarded it as important and kept in touch with events. Martyred Métis Louis Riel is said to be our relative, through the Bouchers, a Chipewyan family of Ile a la Cross, Saskatchewan.
Many times, our Dene relatives have honoured our people by selecting them as spiritual, trade, war or talking chiefs. In 1899 at Fort Chipewyan, influential Métis trader Pierre Mercredi interpreted the Chipewyans’ conditions for accepting Treaty 8. In 1900, at Fort Resolution, Michel Mandeville was the interpreter. There, the Chipewyans put forward another respected Métis leader, Pierre Beaulieu, to be their chief. The Treaty Commissioner refused to allow this, because he was Métis and because he refused to accept extinguishment as a condition of the Treaty.
Pierre Mercredi interpreted again during the 1920 Treaty boycott in Fort Resolution, and is credited with using his good offices to help resolve the crisis. This action was typical of the role Métis played throughout our history, as intermediaries and diplomats between the Aboriginal peoples and the Canadian state. Two Métis men, Napoleon Lafferty and Patrice Mercredi, became the only native northerners to be ordained as priests in the Mackenzie-Athabasca district.
Other Métis helped Canada establish its presence in our territory by working to carry the mail hundreds of miles by dog-team and as buffalo rangers and special constables, enforcing the law as far east as the Thelon River valley in the Barren Lands. Many of our people fought for Canada in the two World Wars, the Korean War, the Gulf War and Bosnia, including members of the Loutit, Heron, Sanderson, Mercredi and Evans families. Our people continue to serve with the Canadian Forces to this day.
We have suffered many of the same wrongs as our First Nations relatives, including attempts by the Government of Canada to take over our lands and resources,; to govern our people without consultation and our consent and to eradicate our languages and way of life. Métis suffered as much from government neglect, as interference. Our rights and our very existence as an Aboriginal people were never acknowledged.
Our treatment by Canada in the last 100 years has been unjust through Government’s non-recognition of our Aboriginal rights.
We hold the federal government to account for creating inequity in our communities, where none existed before. When Status Indians were permitted by regulation to continue harvesting in Wood Buffalo National Park, we were not. We were forced out of the Wood Buffalo National Park by Canada without compensation or recognition of our aboriginal rights. When Status Indians and Inuit had their medical treatment paid for, we did not. We have supported institutions like the Church and the education system but found ourselves subject to racism and discrimination, often enshrined in government policy. As a result, many of our people lived in hardship. Even now, there continues to be differential treatment between Métis, Status Indian and Inuit students whereby Métis students continue to receive lesser benefits than Status Indian and Inuit students.
We are a strong people and we have survived to this day because of the strength, unity, love and caring of our families and community.
We, the Indigenous Métis of the South Slave, now reside mainly in the communities of Fort Smith, Hay River, Fort Resolution and Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories. We did not cede, surrender or release Aboriginal title to the lands and resources throughout our traditional territory. We shall always have Aboriginal rights to the use of our lands and resources. We also have the inherent right to govern ourselves in matters that are internal to our communities and traditional territory, integral to our distinctive culture and practices, customs and traditions, and with respect to our unique relationship to our land, water and resources, and essential to our operations as governments.
The federal government has a fiduciary obligation to our people, which is protected by section 35 of the Constitution of Canada. This is a sacred trust that must be upheld by the Crown and we insist that justice prevail.
Our rights are not dependent on, and cannot be compromised, by the will of other governments. We have the right to exercise them for our benefit at any time. We would prefer to negotiate in good faith with other governments to take our rightful place in Canada. We are willing to work with First Nation people and other governments for the purposes of community harmony.
We shall govern ourselves in all areas that affect Métis people, with the guiding principle that future generations must benefit from our actions. We, ourselves, will take on the responsibility of healing the wounds of the past that were inflicted upon us by others. Our government is based on our beliefs, values, traditions, history, customs and laws as Métis people. Our Métis Constitution sets out our principles, structures of government, jurisdictions and authorities.
We place high value on the wisdom of our Elders and will continue to use their guidance in all matters affecting Métis people. We will ensure that their knowledge of our identity, our nationhood and historic place within Canada, and of our Aboriginal rights, is passed on through our children for generations to come.