Dehcho Land Use Plan Has Full Support of Negotiations

Fort Simpson, NWT – Jan. 22 — Dehcho First Nations Grand Chief Herb Norwegian has praised the final draft of the Dehcho Land Use Plan released recently, and said that despite attempts by federal negotiators to scrap the process, the DFN is determined to keep it going.

“Land and resources are integral to our claim. We are militant on land use. Canada and the GNWT (Government of the Northwest Territories) have wanted to scrap the work of land use planning because they say it is too conservation-oriented. We reject that. We will not back down on land use planning. We offered Canada a chance to propose changes when we held negotiations late last year in Edmonton. We’ve had no response. They’ve ignored us. That is very disappointing.”

Norwegian, speaking at internal strategy meetings with Dehcho negotiators here this week, said the Dehcho Land Use Planning Committee (DLUPC) will not be allowed to die even if the DFN must, itself, find the funds to keep the staff and office in Fort Providence open as a signal to the staff that DLUPC will continue their work which is essential to achieving a just final agreement.

“The feds are afraid of the work the DLUPC has been doing over the past five years. It has been praised nationally and internationally as a model for land use planning,”

Norwegian said it was clear the federal and territorial negotiators were “reneging” on their commitment to land use planning under the Interim Measures Agreement (IMA) which does not specify a process should any of the three parties reject part of the plan. “But they have never told us anything except there is too high a level of conservation and the plan does not adequately express the land selection model proposed by Canada. So now they are saying the committee’s work is done. We disagree.”

The federal government has stated that there will be no land use planning until there is an Agreement in Principle. The Dehcho disagrees, asking how land selection can be made without land use planning first.

“I suggest Canada is afraid of this land use report being implemented,” Norwegian said. “They fear a tough response from us. They are well aware that the Dehcho has a ‘green’ environmental agenda where they are so weak in their policies on the environment, especially in the north. Where does the Mackenzie Gas Project fit into the environmental agenda? There is a federal election coming and the environment will play a big part in that. They also want the pipeline. They want us to start land selection before our land use plan is complete and accepted. The plan comes before selection and before a draft agreement.”

The grand chief argues that the federal government wants land selection to be made without further land use planning, while the Dehcho insists on a land use planning process first. If the federal negotiators agree to continue that process then the DFN will begin land selection, he said.

“That was the whole gist of Mr. Justice Thomas Berger’s key recommendations 30 years ago,” Norwegian said, “ the Dene must have time to plan how to develop their land. We Dehcho are the only First Nation in the Mackenzie Valley that still sticks to Berger’s recommendations.”

When the DLUPC updated its final draft plan, it culminated in a series of changes requested by the Dehcho, following which it received unanimous approval at the DFN national assembly in June 13, 2006. It was then immediately submitted to the relevant ministries in the federal and territorial governments. The plan was also discussed at the negotiations in October and November, 2006 with the two levels of government insisting the committee’s work was done at the December talks and any further issues would be discussed as side table negotiations. The federal and territorial negotiators also refused to recommend approval or implementation of the land use plan until the Dehcho presented a detailed Agreement in Principle to the negotiation table.

The DLUPC would no longer be needed if the federal proposal were accepted, except for its technical expertise at side table negotiations. Its federal funding would cease and the Dehcho Land Use Committee would have some of its membership changed by the federal and territorial governments.

At the December negotiations, the Dehcho negotiators expressed their strong rejection of the federal proposals and were promised a response from the federal government which has not yet been received.

“They don’t intend to keep land use planning active,” said Norwegian, “but we are taking a hard position on that. Land use planning must continue or there will be no land selection.”

For further information please contact Grand Chief Herb Norwegian, DFN, Fort

Simpson, NWT, (867) 695-2355/2610