It will take a lot more than a formal signing ceremony to sway the Dehcho First Nations (DFN) to jump on board with devolution.
DFN, one of two outstanding regional Aboriginal governments still not party to the devolution agreement, has other unfinished business with the federal government it wants to get out of the way before signing on.
“I think the GNWT’s got to be a little bit more accommodating rather than take on this hard line, ‘take it or leave it’ kind of approach,” DFN Grand Chief Herb Norwegian told The Journal.
Norwegian indicated that any move by the GNWT to take over responsibility for public lands in the Dehcho region is sure to be opposed by many DFN members while land claims negotiations with Canada sit unfinished.
The chief said roughly 117,000 square km of land will remain open to development within the region after the Edehzhie national wildlife area is created through the Protected Areas Strategy (PAS) and the Dehcho land use plan is completed.
As DFN has not yet selected lands through its claims process, Norwegian said he does not want the GNWT having access to that land.
“The territorial government has been pushing this whole thing that they wanted to do a land grab of 45 per cent of the Dehcho land, and we totally disagree with that,” Norwegian said.
“They’re not in the business of extinguishing land or taking land from us; if anything, they are just an administrative arm of the department of Indian Affairs and that’s not their role. If anything, I think it will be up to us to decide whether they should get their hands on that portion of land.”
Though the consensus draft of the devolution agreement, signed formally in the NWT legislature on Mar. 11, states the federal government will be able to take back public lands in the territory to negotiate unsettled claim areas with First Nations, Norwegian said DFN should have the authority to expropriate lands as well.
“It’s a saloon door approach; the door has to swing both ways,” he said. “If they can do that, then the Dehcho should be able to do that also…If there is going to be expropriation, there should be an exchange for that; there should be a trade off for that.”
Land use plan, protected area in the works
DFN is also currently in the process of finalizing its land use plan for the region, along with the establishment of Edehzhie following a recent court victory that forced the federal government back to the PAS process.
The wildlife area encompassing the Horn Plateau will be co-managed by the GNWT, Canada and the First Nations following its completion.
“It’s a pretty serious place for us and we’ll do everything we can to make sure that it’s protected,” Norwegian said. “You’ve got to understand that the Edehzhie is the Dehcho Shangri-La; there’s pretty sensitive stuff up there.”
Right now the land use plan is 95 per cent done, according to Norwegian, and the PAS process is in stage six of eight. Both are currently awaiting response from the federal government.
Norwegian said the success of those two items, coupled with the ongoing Dehcho claims process, are interconnected.
“It’s all integrated; it’s all tightly connected together,” he said. “Every piece of land here in the Dehcho is connected to one another, one way or another, directly or indirectly. And any time that one piece moves there’s always a domino effect or a Rubik’s cube effect throughout the whole system, so you can’t isolate one from the other in this case.”