Queen won’t interfere on NWT devolution bill

Queen won’t interfere on NWT devolution bill
Dene National Chief Bill Erasmus, centre, speaks with Dehcho Grand Chief Herb Norwegian and his legal counsel Larry Innes at Bill C-15 hearings in Yellowknife.Bill Braden.

The Queen of England has declined action requested by the Dene Nation on the NWT devolution bill now before Parliament.

Dene National Chief Bill Erasmus wrote to the monarch earlier this month, expressing concerns about regulatory changes included in Bill C-15 that would eliminate regional land and water boards established by land claims in the territory.

“We felt the need to inform Her Majesty of the Government of Canada’s endeavour to pass federal and territorial legislation on Bill C-15,” said Erasmus, who argues the proposed legislation breaches Treaties 8 and 11, “therefore creating uncertainty in the North and within Canada.”

In a letter response to Erasmus last week, Queen Elizabeth’s senior correspondence officer said the matter would be referred to the Governor General of Canada, David Johnston.

Though the queen is said to have taken “careful note” of the Dene Nation’s views, the letter indicates those concerns have been forwarded back to her representative in Canada.

Despite the lack of action, Erasmus said he is pleased with the response, which indicates an acknowledgement of First Nations’ equal status with the Crown.

“Indian treaties are outside the authority of the prime minister,” the chief said. “The government of Canada is limited when exerting its powers in relation to our treaties. Because these accords are between the Dene and Great Britain, which Canada is answerable to, the prime minister of Canada does not have the last say.”

First Nations in the NWT spoke out against the amendments to the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act (MVRMA) included in the devolution bill at recent hearings in Yellowknife. Though the majority of Aboriginal governments support devolution, many worry the regulatory amendments will take away First Nations’ say on industrial development.

Attempts by Opposition MPs in the House of Commons to split the omnibus bill in two, separating the MVRMA changes from the transfer of authority over lands, water and resources, were unsuccessful.

Erasmus plans to request a meeting with the Governor General prior to Apr. 1, the date devolution comes into effect, and hopes Johnston won’t sign off on the act.

Dene leaders from across the NWT are meeting in Dettah on Mar. 4 to discuss the bill.

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