The Sahtu Secretariat Inc. (SSI) rejoined NWT devolution negotiations last week, becoming the first of the Dene to sign on to the controversial devolution Agreement in Principle (AiP) signed a year ago by the GNWT and the federal government.
SSI chair Ethel Blondin-Andrew made the trip to Yellowknife last Tuesday to do the signing, the day before third session began in the Legislature.
The SSI, which manages the economic side of the Sahtu Dene and Métis comprehensive land claim agreement, joined the NWT Métis Nation and the Inuvialuit Regional Corp. as the only three Aboriginal groups participating in negotiations.
Blondin-Andrew told the crowd the difficult decision involved “soul searching” and “many internal conflicts,” but said there was no other venue to have their concerns heard. She indicated the decision in no way guarantees the Sahtu will sign on to the final agreement.
The Sahtu Dene and Métis first joined devolution negotiations in 2001, signing on to the initial AiP, but dropped out of the process following former premier Floyd Roland’s signing of the latest AiP with Ottawa in 2011.
Sahtu MLA Norman Yakeleya applauded the move, saying it is crucial for the Sahtu to have its views represented.
“It’s always better to negotiate your own fate than to have others do it for you,” he said. “The Sahtu are now owning up to 100 per cent of our responsibility to determine our destiny.”
Premier Bob McLeod said the Sahtu’s decision to rejoin discussions is significant to the success of devolution negotiations and coming implementation. He signalled that a final deal is expected to be made by mid-fall.
“My preference has always been to get as many Aboriginal governments onside right from day one when I was elected as premier,” he told The Journal. “Having the Sahtu sign on will provide for a better agreement, for more inclusiveness.”
Meanwhile, McLeod continues to negotiate with three of four Aboriginal governments outside the Sahtu who continue opposing the current devolution negotiations: the Dehcho, Akaitcho and Tlicho.
Negotiations with the Gwich’in Tribal Council (GTC) stopped after the GTC launched a Supreme Court lawsuit against the territorial and federal governments over the AiP this past January, claiming it was not properly consulted on the negotiation process. Despite having been a signatory to the original AiP on resource revenue sharing in 2007, the GTC withdrew from the table in April 2010.
Most recently, leaders at the Dene Leadership Meetings in Inuvik in April passed a resolution calling for research into litigation on the devolution process, which they said was proceeding without the consent or appropriate involvement of the Dene.
McLeod said he hopes the Sahtu’s action encourages the remaining parties to join the table.
“The fact that you’re at the table makes sure that your issues are addressed,” he said.