Métis leaders in the Northwest Territories say an agreement signed with Canada and the territorial government to negotiate their land claims marks a critical step toward self-government and managing their own finances, land and services to members.
On Wednesday, the N.W.T. Métis Nation announced it has signed an agreement with two Canadian governments that will guide their land claim negotiations, which have been underway for 25 years.
Garry Bailey, the president of the Northwest Territory Métis Nation (NWTMN) said the agreement was a "long time coming."
"To date, we haven't been treated equally, so, we're looking for a positive response and positive outcome over the next three to five years. It should be definitely something to watch for," Bailey said to CBC.
Signing the self-government framework agreement is in line with implementing the principles of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), said Bailey.
It will "set the stage" to develop a constitution that governs relationships between the NWTMN, three Métis government councils, and Indigenous Métis members.
Through self-government, the NWTMN and councils will be recognized as law-making authorities with the ability to deliver programs, he said.
"We're going to be recognized as a government, not just as a society — so it's a big step ," he said.
'Lots of work to do'
The Fort Resolution Métis Government's acting president, Arthur Beck, said self-government is "critically important" because it gives them the authority to manage their own lands and finances, and deliver programs and services to their Indigenous Métis members.
Beck said it lays out an agreement for Canada and the N.W.T. government to develop a government-to-government relationship.
Trevor Beck, president of the Hay River Métis Government Council said in a written statement "after many years of perseverance and struggle, the Hay River Métis Government Council is pleased that we have reached an agreement," he said.
"We recognize we have lots of work to do," he said.
Allan Heron, president of the Fort Smith Métis Council said in a written statement that the agreement is a "symbolically a significant" step for Canada and the N.W.T. governments to recognize Métis Nation and its status as a government.
The agreement will enable the council to design a government that reflects the distinct identity of Métis peoples, and their ongoing contributions to the N.W.T. and Canada.
N.W.T. Premier Caroline Cochrane said in the release that her government is "committed" to work with Métis as they pursue their right to self-govern.
"Concluding a self-government agreement will advance reconciliation and recognize and affirm the treaty rights of the Northwest Territory Métis Nation," she said.
Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett congratulated Métis leaders for their leadership and determination.
"Strong, self-reliant Indigenous nations that are able to govern effectively and fulfil their right to self-determination are critical to improving well-being and economic prosperity in northern Indigenous communities," she said.
Liberal MP Michael McLeod said he looks forward to further progress made through the agreement.