by P.J. Harston
Northern News Services
NNSL (Feb 17/97) - The federal government has finally committed itself to help the western NWT come up with a new constitution.
And federal Northern Development Minister Irwin (right) has even put some money behind the promise, pledging more than $175,000 for western constitutional development over the next fiscal year.
"The funding, which is actually being matched or nearly matched by the territorial government, was agreed to by (Irwin) in January. We're just now completing the paperwork," said Kirk Cameron.
Cameron is the director of Northern political development with the Department of Indian Affairs. He's travelling to Yellowknife from Ottawa today (Monday) to continue constitutional talks with western NWT leaders.
In a Calgary meeting Feb. 8, Irwin and territorial cabinet ministers Jim Antoine and Stephen Kakfwi agreed to work together to get the job done.
A joint federal-territorial statement released Thursday said, "It is important that DIAND, GNWT and (the constitutional working group) work co-operatively."
It also said that, in turn, the ministers will work with constitutional working group members to "help resolve concerns that have been raised or which may be raised with the current proposal."
Criticisms of the proposal -- called Partners in a New Beginning and released last October -- mainly revolve around the creation of a second assembly made up of aboriginal and Metis representatives only.
The constitutional working group which put the proposal together over the summer is made up of western aboriginal leaders and western MLAs.
All three ministers at the Feb. 8 meeting agreed in general with the objectives reflected in the proposed constitution.
Those include the principal of the aboriginal inherent right to self-government and guarantees of aboriginal participation in the central government as an expression, in part, of the inherent right.
However, they also agreed that more work needs to be done.
Those include working toward a stable climate to foster economic growth and keeping the population of the western NWT united by finding ways to recognize the special relationships of aboriginal and non-aboriginal people in the institutions of government.
For his part, Irwin told Kakfwi and Antoine he is committed to seeking his cabinet colleagues' support if an "acceptable final proposal" for the restructuring of government is developed by the working group, the joint statement said.
The constitutional working group has said it will hold meetings in all western NWT communities on the proposed constitution over the coming months.
"It is our expectation that, based on reactions from the public and on input from the federal government, the (working group) will produce a final (proposal) consistent with the principles which we collectively support that will then be put before the public for ratification," Antoine told the legislature last week.