Behchoko, Northwest Territories –
As some communities in the Northwest Territories gather to celebrate 100 years since Treaty 11 was signed, many indigenous peoples reflect on what the historic agreement means today.
The last of the numbered treaties between the Canadian government and indigenous peoples, Treaty 11 traveled by river to nine signatory communities in 1921 and 1922. The document, which covers 950,000 square kilometers of what is now Yukon, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut affects several Dehcho, Tlicho, Sahtu and Gwich’in communities.
The indigenous chiefs signed what they believed at the time to be a peace and friendship treaty with the understanding that their rights to trap, hunt and fish in their traditional territory would be protected. Meanwhile, the Canadian government wanted to gain control of the land to engage in mineral, oil, and gas exploration.
“The original treaty that was made in 1921 was in the best interest of the Dominion, so that they can have access to natural and non-renewable resources for society at large,” said John Zoe, a senior adviser to the Tlicho government who was the lead. negotiator when the Tlicho Agreement was ratified in 2005. It was the first comprehensive combined land claim and self-government agreement in the Northwest Territories
Zoe said the Canadian government had already written Treaty 11 before heading north and subsequently indigenous peoples were excluded from Canada’s growth.
When the treaty reached Behchoko, then known as Fort Rae, in the summer of 1921, many Tlicho were wary that promises made to them and the Denesuline who had signed Treaty 8 at Fort Resolution in 1900 had not been kept. .
After several days of negotiations, Chief Monfwi signed Treaty 11 on behalf of the Tlicho people on August 22, 1921.
Today the Tlicho region includes the communities of Behchoko, Whati, Gameti and Wekweeti.
Whati chief Alfonz Nitsiza said the Monfwi chief was “very forceful” in ensuring that the Tlicho’s harvest rights would not be restricted and outlined their traditional territory on a map.
“We always maintained over the years that this is our homeland, this is our right to harvest,” he said.
The Tlicho government now owns 39,000 square kilometers of land between Great Slave Lake and Great Bear Lake, including surface and subsurface rights.
At the time of signing Treaty 11, Chief Monfwi declared that “as long as the sun rises, the river flows and the land does not move, we will not be restricted from our way of life”.
Zoe said those words have lived on and helped guide Tlicho’s modern self-government arrangement.
“Now we have the ability to strengthen our relationship with our own lands, with our language, our cultural way of life of doing activities on land, things that we should have been doing for a long time,” he said.
Former Dene National Chief Norman Yak’eula’s grandfather, Chief Albert Wright, signed Treaty 11 at Fort Norman, now Tulita, on July 15, 1921. He said it was not until the 1960s that the Dene people saw the final wording of the treaty for the first time, and it was not what they had agreed to.
“That’s where we got to see what kind of people the government was,” he said.
“We were dealing with not so honorable people from the federal government and the churches. They had their agenda, they knew what they wanted, they knew the value of our land.”
Yak’eula said that her grandfather was appointed chief by the government.
Decades after the signing of Treaty 8 and Treaty 11, many northern indigenous peoples challenged treaty justice and asserted their rights.
Tlicho met at Behchoko in 1968 and agreed to refuse to accept the treaty payments.
A legal challenge to the proposed Mackenzie Valley pipeline by more than a dozen Dene chiefs in the early 1970s, known as the Paulette case or the Paulette warning, caused the Supreme Court of Canada to uphold findings that there was no they had renounced their rights when they signed the treaties. . The case helped lead to the negotiation of comprehensive land claim agreements.
Several communities celebrated the centenary of Treaty 11 last summer with parties, dances, drums, games and other traditional activities. Others, like Nahanni Butte and Behchoko, waited to host festivities until this summer, while Fort Liard postponed celebrations until 2023.
Zoe said that while treaty making is serious, it is also something to celebrate.
“This is about the spirit and intent of the treaty that we should enter into,” he said. “At the same time, we should celebrate the agreement that we have with Canada to say that we are finally recognized that we have always been there.”
Yak’eula, who was the main negotiator of the Sahtu Dene and Metis land claim and Tulita self-government agreement, said the treaty recognizes the Dene as one nation.
“It means that we are a nation with a set of values, principles and our own way of life,” he said. “The second most powerful treaties we have are comprehensive land claim agreements followed by self-government agreements.”
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on August 20, 2022.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of Meta and the Canadian Press News Fellowship.