Deh Cho First Nations to charge Canada with violating rights
Grand Chief lobbies for support in Switzerland

by Ralph Plath
Northern News Services

FORT SIMPSON (Apr 18/97) - The Deh Cho First Nations is bringing formal charges against Canada for violating civil and political rights.

Grand Chief Gerald Antoine returned from a week-long trip to Geneva, Switzerland on Monday, where he lobbied for support of a written intervention to the United Nations Human Rights Commission.

"Part of our strategy is to lay a foundation for our beliefs," Antoine said. "What we have with Canada is an international arrangement of peace and friendship, so it only makes sense that it be brought to this forum."

The written intervention cites federal diversion of Deh Cho First Nations' jurisdiction and funding to the territorial government as a violation of Deh Cho civil and human rights.

The action is part of a strategy developed from a First Nations' special assembly held in December to prompt the federal government to take the Deh Cho First Nations' self-government proposal more seriously. It is being sponsored by the Copenhagen-based International Work Group on Indigenous Affairs.

"The UN is the forum which will open the door," Antoine said.

The commission has already asked for a copy of the intervention.

The First Nations has been trying to get negotiations over self-government going for more than three years.

Over three years ago a Deh Cho self-government proposal was made to the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs.

Indian Affairs Minister Ron Irwin responded with two options for negotiating a land claim settlement, something the DCFN opposes. He has also declined requests for a face-to-face meeting.

"The federal government is still only giving us the old options to negotiate," Antoine said. "That's not acceptable."

While the federal government does provide opportunities for First Nations to administer programs and services on behalf of native people, "this form of governing isn't consistent with our traditional laws and governance," the submission states.

And while the First Nations receives money for government support and economic development, it says Canada's diversion of program and service funding to the territorial government creates competition with the First Nations.

One example the First Nations gives is the creation of the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act by the federal government, which is being implemented without the consent of the First Nations.

"Our peoples have not experienced equitable sharing of the benefits from development or our resources, while our lands and communities have suffered the impacts," the submission states.

The First Nations is calling on the Human Rights Commission to get Canada to stop trying to extinguish land rights, and respect aboriginal and treaty rights.

It also is pushing for Canada to enter into fair and open negotiations to recognize the First Nations' scope of authority over the land and its membership, remove administrative structures and policies that interfere with self-governance and self-determination, and provide more resources to the membership.

"We have inextinguishable rights and its worth fighting for," said Antoine. "If it is by the people and for the people the government should reflect that."