Email this articleE-mail this story  Discuss this articleWrite letter to editor  Discuss this articleOrder a classified ad

Feds have no right: DFN

Andrew Raven
Northern News Services

Fort Simpson (Mar 18/05) - The Dehcho First Nations (DFN) fired salvos across the bows of the territorial and federal governments Monday, by opposing devolution talks to transfer province-like powers to the NWT.

"Canada has no right to transfer ownership or control over any land in the Deh Cho territory," said Grand Chief Herb Norwegian. "Not one grain of sand in the Deh Cho land belongs to Canada."

Norwegian's comments came on the eve of a meeting between Premier Joe Handley and Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development Andy Scott in Yellowknife.

The two leaders were expected to move forward with a preliminary agreement providing the territory with province-like powers. It would also allow the NWT to keep a percentage of the royalties generated from mineral and petroleum development.

Speaking Tuesday from Nahanni Butte, Norwegian said both governments would "be in for a rough ride" if they decided to proceed with the transfer of power without the consent of the DFN and the Akaitcho First Nation. The latter group also voiced its opposition to the plan earlier this week.

"The majority of resources are in the Akaitcho and Deh Cho territories," said Norwegian. "They need to accommodate us."

Norwegian left open the possibility of a court challenge to the devolution process.

"We try to use as many levers as possible," he said. "Legal action is always something that lingers in the air."

In the past, the federal government has refused to negotiate with individual First Nations on devolution, dealing instead with an umbrella group: the Aboriginal Summit.

"Devolution will only come through the Summit," federal government chief negotiator David Peterson said earlier this year.

"You can do land claims, you can do self government, but you can't do devolution."

The DFN decided in March 2004, not to join the Aboriginal Summit and is instead seeking its own deal with Ottawa and the territorial government.

Akaitcho Chief Peter Liske said the federal government must first honour historical treaties before dealing with devolution.

"We insist Canada honour its legal obligations to us ... and accommodate our concerns," said Liske following a meeting this week with Norwegian in Ndilo.

Norwegian said the obstacles to reaching a deal on devolution were not insurmountable, but he said the federal government would have to "make us an offer."

Tuesday, leaders in Fort Good Hope also said they had "serious concerns about Premier Handley's revenue sharing and devolution initiatives."

Chief Ron Pierrot said in a news release the agreement is being pursued without the input of the K'ahsho Got'ine band.

In January similar concerns were voiced by Aklavik Chief Charlie Furlong who said the Aboriginal Summit is "not working" - in part because of members' competing interests.

Premier Handley - who is also Minister of Aboriginal Affairs - was not available for comment before press time. The federal Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development also did not respond to calls.