Constitution This is the Dene homeland
NNSL (OCT 25/96) - People will have to let go of their predilection for western-style democracy if the west is to have a new constitution, says the chief of the Dene Nation.

"We're not ethnic, we're not an interest group. We are a nation of people. Two minutes out of Yellowknife you're no longer in a subdivision like Edmonton," Bill Erasmus said last week.

"In recognizing we're in a different part of the world, we have to define the rules that apply. Our people have had rules and order for thousands of years.... Bringing those rules together with the rules of the western world is the challenge."

The main model proposed in the draft provides for a 22-seat legislature. Members would represent 14 ridings, with each of eight aboriginal groups electing an additional representative.

Non-aboriginals, most notably Yellowknife Mayor Dave Lovell, have worries about the additional representation the draft would give aboriginals.

Shortly after the document was released, Lovell equated the voting format with apartheid, the system of government once used in South Africa to separate blacks and whites. Under that system black South Africans had not vote in national elections.

But Erasmus vowed that the constitution would not live or die on a one-man, one-vote plebiscite.

"If they think they can put a package together and ratify it with one-man, one-vote they're dreaming in Technicolor," he said.

"This is the Dene homeland, please get that into your head and understand it," said Erasmus. "I'm not saying you have less rights than I do. I'm saying recognize that this is my home."

"I'm not entirely satisfied with the results," he said. "I don't know anyone who will be completely happy with it, but maybe that's a good sign. It will make people talk about it."

One part of the main draft model he questioned was the size of the assembly it recommended.

"Why have 22 members? There's only 30 communities. Why go with the status quo?" he asked.

Thinking aloud, Erasmus said another model would be to have a 16-member legislature with one member each from the eight major centres and representatives for each of the eight aboriginal groups.

When the draft was released, Yellowknife MLA Charles Dent expressed some concern with how the package was presented. Dent said he was expecting to see a document in which several options were given equal weight.

"I was the one who suggested we should have one model, just to keep it simple, less confusing," said Erasmus. Two other options are included in the appendix.

The Dene leader said success or failure of the new constitution will depend on people reading and understanding the draft, and approaching the issue with an open mind.

"We have an opportunity, and if we don't put our individual interests aside and work together, we're not going to get very far."