15th Assembly Theme: Defending the Dehcho Homeland

FORT SIMPSON, NT – June 25 — Some 500 Dehcho Dene will gather here tomorrow morning under the Arbour at the historic Papal Grounds to begin a week of tradition, culture, serious discussion, and deep decision-making at the 15th Dehcho Annual Assembly.

Early Tuesday morning the traditional fire-feeding ceremony at the renewed Arbour will spiritually and officially open the Assembly. The fire will be kept burning until the sessions end Thursday evening. The theme of the Assembly is “Defending the Dehcho Homeland.”

The Arbour and Sacred Fire ceremony, which are integral to regular and special assemblies of the Dehcho First Nations (DFN), are to be held at Fort Simpson to recall the only visit ever made to Aboriginal territory by a Pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church. It was 20 years ago that the late Pope John Paul II visited the island community and pledged his solidarity with the on-going struggle for First Nations to achieve their rights.

Some 85 elders, chiefs and councillors representing 10 Dehcho communities have a packed agenda to deal with in the town’s Community Hall, covering all aspects of life including a critical stage in negotiations with the federal government under the Dehcho Process, the Dehcho Land Use Plan, the DFN’s green agenda, activities’ reports and Grand Chief Herb Norwegian’s opening remarks which will set the stage for the theme.

The Dehcho have always stressed their commitment to protecting and defending their land as a sacred trust. Herb Norwegian has made the environment a key issue in many speeches and statements, especially the Dehcho concern for global warming, water pollution and protection of the boreal forest.

“This is not simply a get together for us, as important as that is, it is a rallying cry to our people that we must always be vigilant and alert to protect and nurture the rights we hold to our beloved Dehcho Territory and to protect it as our elders have done since time immemorial. Dehcho land is ours and we must defend that.”

The Assembly is co-hosted by the Liidlii Kue First Nation, headed by Chief Keyna Norwegian and Marie Lafferty, president of the Fort Simpson Metis local 52 who will provide meals, entertainment and cultural events for the three-day event. Many of the visitors will camp at the papal site, arriving by plane, vehicle and even boats.

Chief Keyna Norwegian extended a warm welcome to the delegates and visitors, “especially on this special anniversary of the visit to Fort Simpson by the Holy Father 20 years ago.” Fort Simpson is one of the largest communities in the Dehcho Territory and Chief Norwegian said her nation will be ready for the influx of visitors and “show them the traditional hospitality and friendship which they have come to expect.”

Herb Norwegian said the theme of the Assembly was set to highlight the significance of “the Dehcho right to defend our territory and maintain the right to self-determination which we have and will defend forever.’.

The traditional lands of the Dehcho First Nations include some 212,000 sq km of land inhabited by about 5,500 people living in 10 communities among some of the most beautiful and resourcerich lands, waters and mountains in the North. Many of the people still live the traditional landbased life, hunting, fishing and trapping as they have done since time immemorial.

Herb Norwegian said holding the historic assembly in Fort Simpson was a way to honour the visit of Pope John Paul II who made clear his support and the support of the Church for Aboriginal rights.

John Paul first visited Canada in 1984, the first pope ever to do so. He promised to visit the Dene Nation at Fort Simpson but despite several efforts to land, the visit had to be cancelled because the airport was socked in with fog. But in a radio broadcast from Yellowknife, he promised the crowd of nearly 5,000 gathered that foggy day in September, 1984 that he would return. Three years later he kept the promise.

The Pope’s spiritual presence made a mark on all the people as did the Pope’s message of political support.

For further information please contact Dehcho communications or Grand Chief Herb Norwegian