Agreement closer
DCFN and feds still disputing resource management authority

Derek Neary
Northern News Services

Fort Simpson (Feb 18/00) - An interim measures agreement between the Deh Cho First Nations and the feds is almost ready to be put on the negotiating table, but there are still a few sticky points, according to DCFN chief negotiator Chris Reid.

The federal government has insisted that the DCFN use the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Authority as an interim measure during negotiations. The DCFN has previously denounced the MVRMA.

Reid said the feds have proposed a three-member panel to oversee land and water permits with the DCFN, DIAND and the MVRMA each assigning a panel member. He added that DIAND Minister Robert Nault has threatened to appoint a panellist on behalf of the DCFN if they don't accept the proposal.

"It's not a very helpful feeling for DIAND to take. It's creating some bad feelings," he said.

DCFN Grand Chief Michael Nadli said the DCFN is advocating that the Deh Cho Resource Management Authority be utilized by the panel. It deals with key areas such as minerals, oil and gas and conservation measures, he said.

Reid noted that one drawback of the MVRMA is that it doesn't address DIAND's ability to lease land to developers. It also fails to address the issue of compensation to First Nations, and its definition of "consultation" regarding land and water permits is not consistent with the state of the law today, he said.

In addition, smaller communities do not have the financial resources to hire scientists or other consultants to study environmental impacts of potential development. The DCFN is holding the government responsible to identify a source of funding for that purpose, he said.

On the upside, Nault has said Canada is prepared to accept the need for land-use planning in the Deh Cho, according to Reid. The DCFN has been in the process of mapping sites of traditional value in the region for the past few years, he noted. The draft wording of the land-use plan has been submitted to the feds and a response is expected late sometime this week, he added.

"We're very much endorsing a co-operative approach. It's an example of public government in the Deh Cho," he said, adding that all stakeholders would be consulted in a meaningful way about land use and development.

"It doesn't affect ownership, just how (the land) is used. It helps us, for now, avoid the sticky issue of who owns the land."

A ratified land-use plan would allow for development in the region to proceed, he explained. He noted that there was a lot of talk about an eventual Mackenzie Valley pipeline at the leadership assembly, but it was agreed that development has to occur in an orderly way without devastating the land.

Reid said the government's target date to sign the interim measures agreement is March 31. He added that three more negotiations sessions have been scheduled before then.

Nadli said the draft interim measures agreement, along with a draft framework agreement and a political accord with the GNWT, would all have to be ratified at a future leadership assembly, possibly in spring or summer. Therefore, the federal government's target date is unrealistic, he suggested.

"Obviously, the federal government doesn't realize that things go according to Dene time in the Deh Cho," he said.

Although the MVRMA doesn't apply to the Canadian Mining Regulations -- which allows for a "free-entry system" of exploring for minerals -- the controversy over a land-use permit issued near Fort Simpson would not bog down interim resource agreement talks, Reid predicted.

He acknowledged the Liidlii Kue First Nations concerns over the land-use permit as serious and justified, but said that issue, even if taken to court, would remain a sideline issue, separate from the interim resource agreement negotiations.