Constitution: Feds on side Feds support constitution
NNSL (OCT 23/96) - A Northern MP says he and the rest of Ottawa are behind the Western Arctic's bid for its own constitution.

Nunatsiaq MP Jack Anawak (left) said last week he supports more Northern control over powers that until now have been in Ottawa's hands.

He spoke in Yellowknife last Wednesday during the unveiling of the 62-page draft constitution package, Partners in a New Beginning.

"Since 1967 the people of the North have been struggling with the government that was in control of the people," said Anawak.

"This is our chance to set up a government that we can call our own," he added.

The North has been forced to live under a government that has no understanding of the people it is making decisions for, said Anawak.

"If you think you can set up a government that you think will be better for you than what you've had in the past ... then it is a pleasure for me to give you my support and the support of others in the government."

Anawak also recognized support from Western Arctic MP Ethel Blondin-Andrew, who couldn't attend the ceremony in Yellowknife. She was in Fort Norman unveiling a plaque marking the Canol Trail as an historic site.

Nahendeh MLA Jim Antoine, who co-chaired the constitutional working group that wrote the draft, said Indian Affairs Minister Ron Irwin was also receptive to the document.

In an Ottawa meeting with the minister earlier this month, Antoine brought Irwin up to date on Western constitutional progress.

"He was encouraged by the completion of the draft," said Antoine in a news conference following the draft's unveiling.

However, Irwin and Antoine didn't discuss the specifics contained in the document, like the proposed legislative assembly.

Under the draft, two assemblies -- a 14-member general assembly elected by the public and an eight-member aboriginal assembly voted in by aboriginal and Metis people -- would form the government.

Antoine said they also didn't discuss the funding the territorial government will need for the public consultation process, which will help iron out the document's wrinkles.

The government will also need money for a ratification vote of the final draft, expected to be ready next June.

"The question of funding has not been put to the minister at this point," said Antoine.

Irwin was not available for comment earlier this week.

The federal government will have the final say in any constitution for the Western Arctic. Parliament must make changes to the federal law -- the NWT Act -- that sets out rules for governing the North.