Annual Dene Nation meeting puts focus on land

Annual Dene Nation meeting puts focus on land
National Chief Bill Erasmus.

Leaders and community members from across Denendeh are meeting in Inuvik this week for the 43rd annual Dene National Assembly, and according to National Chief Bill Erasmus, the focus of the discussions is going to be an all-pervasive one when it comes to issues in the North: land.

“This is the 40th year since the court case where Francois Paulette and other chiefs took Canada to court and won the case, so why is it that 40 years later, we’re still not governing ourselves? There’s something that’s terribly wrong,” he said.

“Canada’s denying the fact that these rights exist and are enshrined in the Canadian Constitution. So how to deal with that, what do we do to turn that around, that’s part of the issue.”

Though the specific details of each region and community will be filled in throughout the three days of meetings, Erasmus said big issues of how to protect the land will be brought up.

“We’ve got people coming up and talking about the proposed Canada-China trade agreement. We’ve also got people talking about the fracking in northern BC. Those are some of the big issues,” he said.

“Water, lands, resources – the devolution agreement, for example, it’s designed to give power and authority to the territorial government and we’re saying, how can you do that when the lands and the resources don’t belong to the federal government? It’s a huge issue that we need to talk about.”

Protection for Northern lakes and rivers will also be on the agenda, including a proposal for the Dene Nation to support federal Bill C-529, which moves to reinstate protection of the Slave River under the Navigable Waters Protection Act. It was removed from the list of protected rivers in December 2012 through omnibus budget Bill C-45.

Moving on from Inuvik, Erasmus, who is also regional chief for the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), will be attending the AFN annual general meeting in Whitehorse the week after.

He said there will be a full contingent from the NWT focused on issues currently important to the North, such as fracking, but said the main agenda item will be unification of First Nations across the country.

“The big one is how to keep us all together and deal with the issues that are affecting us. The North is somewhat different, but really if you’re an Indian, you’re an Indian. There are specific legal obligations that have to be filled on the part of Canada and it’s important that we have all of that clear,” he said.

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