Legal actions by Aboriginal governments in the Northwest Territories are proving successful in stalling controversial changes to the territory’s regulatory regime, which would eliminate the regional land and water boards established through the land claims.
The NWT Supreme Court granted the Tlicho Government an injunction last week against ongoing changes to the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act (MVRMA) that would amalgamate the Wek’èezhìi Land and Water Board with other regional boards into one superboard.
The injunction grants temporary protection not only to Wek’èezhìi, but preserves the Gwich’in and Sahtu boards for the remainder of the Tlicho Government’s lawsuit against the MVRMA.
“This decision is a huge win for the Tlicho and for all of the Aboriginal peoples in the NWT,” Grand Chief Eddie Erasmus announced Sunday. “The court recognized the potentially disastrous effects of Canada’s actions, and exercised its jurisdiction to protect our constitutionally-protected rights as set out in the Tlicho Agreement while our lawsuit proceeds.”
In her ruling, Justice Karan Shaner said the lawsuit raises “a serious constitutional issue to be tried” and “a reasonable possibility that Canada has overstepped the bounds of what is permitted to do under the Tlicho Agreement.”
Erasmus said he could not be happier with the ruling.
“The court’s statement is clear: our modern day treaty and the promises within it cannot simply be ignored by Canada,” he said. “This injunction ensures Tlicho will be able to continue to protect Wek’èezhìi and play our constitutionally-protected role in water and land management in our territory.”
The Tlicho filed their lawsuit against the federal government in May 2014 following the passage of amendments to the MVRMA in Ottawa. The request for an injunction was a critical step included in the legal action.
Canada now has the option of appealing the injunction.
Sahtu file concurrent lawsuit
Riding the coattails of the Tlicho victory, the Sahtu Secretariat Inc. (SSI) filed its own similar lawsuit against the MVRMA last week.
Like the Tlicho, SSI is arguing that the elimination of regional land and water boards in favour of a superboard violates the terms of the land claims and dilutes Aboriginal governments’ ability to effectively co-manage resource development in the territory.
Work on the new 11-person superboard is already underway in Ottawa, with the board originally scheduled to take effect on Apr. 1.
The board will include five members nominated by Aboriginal governments in the Gwich’in, Sahtu, Tlicho, Dehcho and Akaitcho regions, two members nominated by the territorial government, three members nominated by the federal government and a chair nominated by the federal minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada.
Changes to the MVRMA were included in omnibus legislation last spring with the introduction of devolution legislation for the NWT. Though most control over lands, water and resources has been transferred to the territorial government, authority over the MVRMA remains with Canada until the amendments are finalized.