Northerners talk unity
Roundtable guests voice their concerns

Daniel MacIsaac
Northern News Services

NNSL (Jun 23/99) - Federal Minister for Intergovernmental Affairs Stephane Dion says the North's strength lies in its diversity -- and some of that diversity of opinion was evident at Monday's meeting of the Council for Canadian Unity.

Following the opening speeches, guests raised more concrete and controversial issues -- though the tone of the discussion remained polite throughout.

Mackenzie Delta MLA David Krutko began by questioning the rosy picture of the country Dion had painted.

"Aboriginal people live in some pretty appalling conditions compared to the rest of Canada," he said. "We can talk about unity and how great Canada is, but we have to face reality."

Krutko said more recognition must be given to the difficulties Aboriginal people encounter in society.

"We can't just work with the democratic system brought over from Europe," he said, "more flexibility is needed."

Akaitcho Grand Chief Felix Lockhart said he appreciated Dion's speech but said his people are still facing difficulties in winning control of their land and establishing a relationship with the rest of the country.

"I think it's very important that we are able to combine resource-control and self-government -- it's not like that now, and a lot of outdated, colonial policies create hardship," he said, but added, "it's a vast country, and we can accommodate one another."

Bob MacQuarrie called for resolving party conflicts in the House of Commons while Yellowknife South MLA Seamus Henry raised the issue of the Quebec referendums.

But Sue Heron-Herbert said French and English may not be enough.

"From an Aboriginal perspective, we've been respectful of both English and French -- probably to our own detriment," she said. "The government must be more responsive to Aboriginal languages and think about using official Northern languages in government departments."

Finally, NWT Commissioner Dan Marion asked Dion about the territory gaining a greater share of its own resources.

"Progress has been made," the minister replied, "and I'm convinced we'll see more autonomy in the next 10 years."