DIAND to clear the air
Treaty 8 chiefs meeting with deputy minister

Dane Gibson
Northern News Services

LUTSEL K'E (Oct 18/99) - DIAND has responded to a harshly-worded letter sent by the Akaitcho Treaty 8 chiefs by setting up a meeting with DIAND assistant deputy minister, Bill Austin, in Edmonton, Oct. 20.

Negotiations between the federal government and the Akaitcho Treaty 8 chiefs were halted in June when the chiefs became convinced federal negotiators were pushing them into a comprehensive land claim model.

The Akaitcho chiefs say Treaty 8 is a co-existence agreement and they want it negotiated as such. Akaitcho Treaty 8 chief negotiator, Sharon Venne, said the meeting in Edmonton will determine if negotiations can continue.

"The chiefs feel the federal government is not serious about negotiations with the Akaitcho people and that raises the question: What does Canada plan to do on Dene land?" Venne said.

"All the goodwill that the chiefs had is evaporating in this process. The federal government assumes they can do whatever they want on the land and the Dene are saying no, they don't have that authority."

The federal government has been without a Akaitcho Treaty 8 negotiator for some time. The gulf between the federal government and the Akaitcho Treaty 8 chiefs grew wider when, on July 30, former DIAND minister Jane Stewart announced they were appointing Tim Christian as their new Akaitcho negotiator.

Akaitcho Treaty 8 is represented by Deninu Kue Chief Don Balsillie, Lutsel K'e Chief Felix Lockhart and Yellowknives Dene Chiefs Fred Sangris and Richard Edjericon. The Akaitcho chiefs responded to the Tim Christian announcement in a Sept. 20 letter addressed to the newly- appointed DIAND Minister, Robert Nault.

"It is entirely possible for the federal government to select a negotiator of their choice," the letter stated.

"However, we can exercise our rights and decide not to meet with your selected person."

The problem the chiefs have with Christian, Venne said, is that he is also negotiating with the South Slave Metis Tribal Council and the Salt River First Nation. As well, he represents the federal government in Alberta Treaty 8 First Nations' negotiations.

"We can read that the federal government is not serious about the treaty issues related to lands and resources. If there was an urgency, the federal government would have appointed a full-time person," the letter to Nault read.

"This latest attempt by the federal government to subvert negotiations is an act of bad faith. It is a blatant attempt by the federal government to control discussions. We cannot participate in such a process."

In the meantime, a moratorium that was enacted by the chiefs in June on any new development in Akaitcho territory remains in effect.

"The Akaitcho people are saying (the chiefs) have to do something, which is why the moratorium was enacted -- to protect the land," Venne said.

"Enforcing the moratorium has been a problem. Personally, I think court action may be the only option. The chiefs have always wanted to negotiate but maybe it's time to look at other options."

As for the upcoming meeting in Edmonton, Venne has high hopes for the outcome.

"The Akaitcho peoples' land is being alienated from them by the federal government right before their eyes, which is why this upcoming meeting is so important," Venne said.

"The chiefs want assurances that negotiations can continue in the spirit and intent of our treaty, with the understanding that under no circumstances will they extinguish the Akaitcho peoples' right to the land."