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Metis land claim sparks confusion

Paul Bickford
Northern News Services

Hay River (Aug 19/02) - It took a little bit of negotiating to get the answer Hay River Mayor Duncan McNeill was seeking.

This took place when Tim O'Loan, the territorial government's negotiator for the South Slave Metis land claim process, appeared before Hay River council on Aug. 14 to give an update on talks.

McNeill noted there has been some confusion and fear among town residents about the process.

And he asked O'Loan if he could say unequivocally that land that has been developed or improved by building houses or businesses would not be subject to selection by the Metis.

O'Loan first answered no, pointing out a situation might arise in which there was a willing buyer and a willing seller.

"That's not a land claim," countered the mayor.

O'Loan said it is not his mandate to negotiate the selection of such land. "That's as close to 'yes' without saying 'yes' as possible."

The mayor then rephrased his question by asking if there would ever come a time when some Hay River residents would get a notice in the mail informing them that their property had been selected as part of a land claim.

"As a negotiator, I would not sign or recommend any agreement that would allow that," O'Loan responded.

That answer seemed to satisfy McNeill.

During his appearance before council, O'Loan also said any land selected in Hay River as part of a land claim settlement would still be subject to municipal taxation and bylaws.

He also noted that the recently signed interim measures agreement with the Northwest Territories Metis Nation is a significant step in the process leading to an agreement.

An agreement-in-principle on land and resources is expected in about 20 months, and that would be followed by negotiations on self-government for the Metis, O'Loan explained, adding that a final agreement is still about four or five years away.

Following the public meeting, the negotiator and council went into an in camera session.