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Assembly showcases Northern issues

Andrew Raven
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (July 08/05) - With the Assembly of First Nations annual conference in their backyard, chiefs from the Yellowknife area said Northern issues received unprecedented exposure.

Phillip the lovebird had a bird's eye view of owner Charissa Alain as she worked on her handicrafts at the trade show. - Dorothy Westerman/NNSL photo

"It gives us a boost," said Ndilo chief-elect Fred Sangris. "It allows our issues to be heard."

The assembly not only gave local leaders access to a national audience - representatives from at least five media outlets carried stories from the conference - but face-time with high ranking federal politicians like New Democrat leader Jack Layton and Public Health minister Carolyn Bennet.

Leaders of the Yellowknives Dene used to opportunity to raise several concerns, including their ongoing conflict with the federal government over treaty and land rights. Dettah Chief Peter Liske threatened legal action against De Beers Canada unless the mining giant reached a compensation agreement with the Dene over the Snap Lake diamond project.

"We will put that out there and then see what happens," Liske said after his speech to the assembly.

Dene Nation national chief Noeline Villebrun, who spoke at length about the affects of global warming, agreed the assembly presented Northern leaders with a golden opportunity.

"This will help us... further our issues," she said. "It is important for people on a national level to understand what they are."

The 26th annual assembly united more than 400 chiefs from across the country, where they discussed a multitude of issues ranging from climate change to the future of the AFN itself.

2,000-3,000 people

Somewhere between 2,000 and 3,000 people flocked to Yellowknife for the meetings, which took place in a downtown high school.

Aside from the politicking, the event featured a trade show, craft sale and entertainment at the mouth of the Yellowknife River, where more than 1,500 people gathered Wednesday night for an eclectic mix of traditional and modern music. After three days of discussions, the assembly was scheduled to wrap up last night with a drum-dance at the river.