Confusion reigns in Sahtu
Resources contentious issue

Dane Gibson
Northern News Services

NNSL (Mar 08/99) - Sahtu Secretariat Incorporated (SSI) chair Ruby McDonald said recent discussions regarding the resignation of Grand Chief Raymond Taniton are distracting people from the real issue.

She feels that the GNWT may be negotiating the transfer of oil, gas and mineral rights with the federal government without consulting the Sahtu Dene/Metis people. "My opinion is that (the GNWT) has been negotiating the transfer without talking to us or the community. It's something we've been suspicious of for a long time," McDonald said.

SSI administers and implements the Sahtu's land claim agreements. McDonald said if the GNWT wants to take control of oil, gas and minerals the SSI must be involved in the entire process.

"We want an inter-governmental forum and the first topic we want to discuss is the transfer of the adminstration and control of oil, gas and minerals from the government of Canada," she said.

Both Taniton and McDonald felt their fears were confirmed after reading a Calgary Herald article dated Feb. 11 headlined, 'NWT fights Ottawa for control over resources.' At the time, NWT Premier Jim Antoine and Sahtu MLA Stephen Kakfwi were in Calgary, in part, to reassure potential investors that the NWT has a stable government.

The trip was described by Kakfwi's press secretary, Judy Langford, as "a get-to-know-you type of visit, not a trip to meet with the feds or negotiate an arrangement with anybody."

Nonetheless, McDonald and Taniton sent out a press release Feb. 12 calling for both Kakfwi and Antoine's "immediate resignation." Many Sahtu leaders were taken by surprise by the announcement and sent both government leaders letters of support.

Colville Lake Chief Richard Kochon then requested Taniton's resignation Feb. 25.

He repeated the sentiment Wednesday on a CBC radio broadcast, saying three Sahtu chiefs want Taniton removed.

Taniton, who represents around 800 members, said Colville Lake makes up about two per cent of the Sahtu membership.

"If the two larger members make a decision, that's what we do," Taniton said.

"(Kochon) feels he wasn't consulted on certain press releases, but we sent all documents to all four bands in Sahtu and the Land Claims Corporation in Sahtu. That, to me, was an announcement of our position."

He said the issue of Sahtu resource control changing hands from Ottawa to the GNWT is being overshadowed by Kochon's statements. Deline, he said, is currently involved in self-government talks which is why clarification on resource issues is so important.

"Deline is negotiating (self-government) and there will be more (communities) coming behind us," he said.

"This is a really complicated issue. The bottom line is we have to protect our aboriginal rights and not hand them over without being absolutely sure our people are getting the best deal."

Kakfwi, who is also Minister of Resources, Wildlife and Economic Development, said the allegation that they could conduct resource negotiations without aboriginal involvement has no basis in fact. He added Taniton and Ruby are acting out of "anger and fear."

"As a government, we've said we're prepared to support (self-government) negotiations by offering to share Northern lands, waters and subsurface resource revenues. These are all the things self-government negotiators want discussed," Kakfwi said.

"Aboriginal governments, when negotiated, should have a share of resources, land, a share of revenue and power to tax. Who would reject that as undermining aboriginal government?"

He confirmed Northern aboriginal communities will be part of federal/territorial discussions regarding resources.

"The minister of Indian Affairs, Jane Stewart, has said over and over any discussion of devolution of resources must have the support of the aboriginal people," Kakfwi said.

"In no way will negotiations go ahead without their involvement."