Gwich'in, Inuvialuit ink agreement

Self-government negotiations pact reached with feds, GNWT

by P.J. Harston
Northern News Services

NNSL (NOV 18/96) - The Gwich'in and Inuvialuit are a big step closer to self-government.

An agreement reached Wednesday between the two aboriginal peoples and the federal government lays out the negotiating process for self-government.

It also establishes a framework and a schedule for the two organizations, along with communities in the Mackenzie Delta and Beaufort regions, to develop a system of government that recognizes the uniqueness of the region and its people.

Richard Nerysoo, president of the Gwich'in Tribal Council, said it will be a long process, but he is pleased the agreement puts them closer to their goal.

"Negotiations are always difficult and you never know how they will go, or the compromises you will have to make," he said.

"Self-government has been an important goal of the Inuvialuit for many years," added Nellie Cornoyea, chair of the IRC.

Territorial Aboriginal Affairs Minister Jim Antoine and Western Arctic MP Ethel Blondin Andrew added their names to the agreement, signed at a ceremony in Inuvik. The Gwich'in and Inuvialuit have already negotiated separate land claims agreements and in 1993 they tabled a joint proposal calling for regional public government.

Exploratory discussions with the territorial and federal government have been under way since mid-1994.

Among the areas that will be discussed in the course of agreement-in-principle negotiations are language and culture, education and training, child and social services, health services, justice and policing, housing and land use.

Antoine, who conceded that this latest step is an ambitious one, said he was confident that the result will be an agreement-in-principle laying the foundation for achieving the goals of self-determination.

"All of these issues stem from the inherent right of aboriginal people to govern themselves," said Nerysoo. "But whatever happens, we have to figure out how to govern the region."