Akaitcho Treaty 8 talks fail
Chiefs begin legal action

Dane Gibson
Northern News Services

EDMONTON (Oct 25/99) - Akaitcho chiefs are starting legal action to enforce a moratorium on all new development on Akaitcho lands.

The announcement followed an Oct. 20 meeting with DIAND assistant deputy minister, Bill Austin, in Edmonton.

"There is not going to be any more activities on our lands and territories without our consent. From this day forward, every licence or permit that is issued will be challenged if we have not been part of the decision-making process," said newly-elected Yellowknives Ndilo Chief Peter Liske.

The moratorium was put in place in February 1999, as negotiations to complete a framework agreement continued. In June, Akaitcho chiefs were frustrated that the negotiations were going nowhere, so they halted all further negotiations with the federal government.

This latest meeting with Austin was attended by Liske, Deninu Kue Chief Don Balsillie, Lutsel K'e Chief Felix Lockhart, Yellowknives Dettah Chief Richard Edjericon, and Akaitcho chief negotiator Sharon Venne.

The meeting was called to get negotiations back on track. The chiefs said that during the meetings, Austin suggested they sign a memorandum of understanding by next March. That effectively ended discussions.

"Why should we sign a memorandum when we have a framework agreement that is 95 per cent complete?" Edjericon asked.

"We have been down that path before."

Chief Lockhart called the suggestion an indication that the federal government wants to back down on a framework agreement that, when completed, would serve as a blueprint to full negotiations.

He also said the federal government has been trying to include the GNWT in the framework process, which is unacceptable.

"The federal government has an agenda. They want the territorial council (GNWT) at the table as a full party," said Lockhart.

"We did not conclude a treaty with a territorial council that came into existence in 1967. Our treaty was negotiated and concluded in 1899 and 1900 with the British Crown. We do not agree to have the territorial council sign as a full party. For us, we would be violating our own treaty."

Austin said from his office in Ottawa that the meeting served as an opportunity to meet the chiefs.

"I've made at least one suggestion to the chiefs on how we might work in a more inclusive way. I don't know if they've accepted or rejected that at this point," Austin said.

When asked what that one suggestion was, Austin replied, "I'm really not in a position to comment on that. It's something I gave as an example to the chiefs but I don't think it's fair to talk about that."

As to where the government plans to go now, Austin said they are committed to the negotiation process.

"Our preference is to negotiate, rather than to litigate and that's really all I can say," Austin said.

Chief Balsillie said that negotiations are getting them nowhere.

"After being at the table for 28 years, talking to more than 15 ministers of Indian Affairs, hundreds of bureaucrats, and six federal negotiators over the last six years, we have used up our patience trying to talk to Canada," Balsillie said.

"Basically, we see that Canada has tried to keep us busy talking at the table while companies have been taking away our lands bit by bit. We have to act to protect our lands and resources for the future generations. We want to negotiate, but we don't see any seriousness on the other side."