Dehcho First Nations Leaders Disappointed with Federal Proposal
The Dehcho First Nations have never surrendered our title to our lands and our Treaties with the Crown confirmed that we are the governing authorities of our land. We have maintained that these realities must be addressed before we will allow the Mackenzie Gas Pipeline mega-project to be built on our land. More than 40% of the territory to be covered by the pipeline is in the Dehcho.
In the past Canada has proposed to settle the issue of ownership and jurisdiction over our land through its standard comprehensive land claim model. In this model First Nations “select” approximately %20 – %25 of their traditional lands to own through “land corporations”. These land claim agreements provide that First Nations have limited powers of self-government over the selected lands, while Canada ends up owning %75 – 80 of First Nations lands and having jurisdiction over the development of those lands, often resulting in ecological disasters and wholesale give-aways of non-renewable resources to multi-national corporations.
Last week the Government of Canada tabled a proposal which offers the Dehcho First Nations a typical land selection based agreement, similar to other land claim agreements in the north. Not surprisingly, the Leaders of the 13 Dene and Metis communities which comprise the Dehcho First Nations were cool to the proposal when they met last week to hear it from Canada’s negotiators. Several Chiefs expressed anger and frustration that Canada has apparently learned nothing from the failure over the past 15 years to reach agreement with the Dehcho based on land selection.
Grand Chief Herb Norwegian said: “We have been telling Canada consistently over the past 15 years that we will not negotiate a land selection agreement. We will not allow our land to be chopped up into little blocks of ‘First Nation’ lands while the majority of our lands become Crown lands. We have tabled an offer to Canada which would see Canada and the Dehcho First Nations assume ‘shared stewardship’ of the entire Dehcho territory under a public government which would have broad jurisdiction over the management of natural resources. It is very disappointing and frustrating to our people that Canada has responded to the innovative Dehcho proposal with an offer which has already been unanimously rejected by our people.”
In an effort to find common ground and break the impasse over ownership and control of the Dehcho territory, a tripartite committee (Canada, the Dehcho and the Government of the Northwest Territories) has been working hard and consulting extensively with all stakeholders over the past five years to develop a Land Use Plan for the Dehcho Territory. The Plan, which strikes a balance between protecting ecologically sensitive lands and leaving other land open for development, is now complete and waiting for approval from the Dehcho and Canada. At a meeting with Jim Prentice in April, Grand Chief Norwegian emphasized the importance of quick approval and implementation of the Plan by the Minister as a means to assist the broader Dehcho land negotiations in moving forward. The proposal tabled last week by the Minister says nothing about approval of the Plan. Norwegian says the failure of Canada to recognize the value of the Land Use Plan is not an encouraging sign.
“Canada’s failure to include the immediate implementation of the Land Use Plan in their proposal could jeopardize the integrity of Dehcho lands. It could be another 6 years before we have a final agreement on land ownership and jurisdiction. There will be increasing pressure for development in the Dehcho if the pipeline is built. There is no reason to put the implementation of the Land Use Plan on hold until after final agreement.”
Despite our disappointment and frustration, it is contrary to our traditions to reject any offers out of hand. The Dehcho First Nations will give the federal proposal serious consideration and will respond in due course. In the meantime it is vital that all parties move as quickly as possible to approve and implement the Land Use Plan.
For further information contact: Grand Chief Herb Norwegian
Box 89 Ft Simpson NWT X0E 0N0
Ph: 867 695-2355