OTD: Mackenzie Valley Dene, Métis sign land claim agreement

On today’s date in 1990, the Dene and Métis of the Northwest Territories’ Mackenzie River Valley signed a land claim agreement with the Government of Canada.

Two days later, in a story published by The Globe and Mail, Dene leader Bill Erasmus suggested April 9, 1990, would be remembered as an iconic date; however, the hopefulness was short-lived.

“I think what we’re doing is committing ourselves to a process, and I think we’re guaranteeing a future for our people,” said Erasmus.

By July 1990, the Dene-Métis Assembly voted to cease ratification of the agreement as the Gwich’in and Sahtu Dene and Métis didn’t agree with certain plans. Both parties withdrew from the negotiating group, requesting a regional settlement from the government instead. Canada’s federal government soon announced it would re-negotiate each of the five regions’ claims.


In 1899, Treaty 8 was signed and included parts of present-day Alberta, Saskatchewan and the Northwest Territories.

Twenty-two years later, Treaty 11 was signed and included most of the Northwest Territories’ Mackenzie Valley. By the 1970s, the Dene and Métis began to challenge the interpretations of the treaties signed by their ancestors in 1899 and 1921.

The Dene and Métis argued the federal government had failed to fulfil its treaty obligations, adding the transfer of land was unjust because their ancestors believed they were signing peace treaties.

The 1990 agreement would have granted the Dene and Métis more than 180,000 square kilometres of land as well as $500 million throughout 20 years. In addition to the land and compensation, the agreement also included subsurface mineral rights to 10,000 square kilometres; hunting, fishing and trapping rights; and a number of resource royalties. Consequently, the Dene and Métis would have agreed to forgo their rights obtained from Treaty 8 and Treaty 11.


In 1989, the Royal Canadian Mint featured the Mackenzie River on a proof silver dollar in commemoration of the bicentennial of the first full-length voyage of the river by Scottish explorer Alexander Mackenzie in 1789.

Engraved by John Mardon, the coin’s design features Mackenzie traversing the river with his crew, with “CANADA 1989” above and “FLEUVE MACKENZIE RIVER / DOLLAR” below.

The coin has a weight of 23.30 grams, a diameter of 36.07 millimetres and a mintage of 110,650 pieces.

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