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No agreement yet on land claim

Roxanna Thompson
Northern News Services

Fort Simpson (Dec 22/06) - Despite Jim Prentice's hopes, it will still be a while before the Dehcho First Nations reaches an agreement on the federal government's land claims offer, said Grand Chief Herb Norwegian.

The CBC North website reported on Dec. 18 that Indian and Northern Affairs Minister Jim Prentice said he hoped the Dehcho First Nations (DFN) would accept the offer during meetings in Edmonton this week.

The comments were taken from a longer interview about where the federal government is on the pipeline, said Deirdra McCracken, the press secretary for the minister. The interview was done on Dec. 14 for CBC's The Trailbreaker radio show.

The minister was distinguishing between the fact that DFN's land claim is one issue and their stand on the pipeline is another. The minister was saying it's not a rejection of the land claim offer that will stop the pipeline from going ahead, said McCracken.

"He realizes the land claim is one issue that has to be dealt with by the Dehcho First Nation and that's why he said he hopes they will accept the offer," she said.

Prentice feels the offer is fair and is something the communities can accept. He wasn't basing the comment on any information about the status of the negotiation, said McCracken.

Federal, territorial and DFN negotiations were meeting in Edmonton from Dec. 18 to 19.

Grand Chief Herb Norwegian heard of the minister's comments through the media, but said more energy and focused time is still needed to make an agreement.

"These things don't just happen overnight," said Norwegian from Edmonton.

Speaking at the beginning of the second day of meetings, Norwegian said discussion had been open and cordial.

"The discussion is positive," he said.

Currently the big issue is the implementation of the Dehcho Land Use Plan.

"It's re-surfaced again as a major important issue," he said.

Norwegian said he hopes to move forward with the plan so people can feel more comfortable about land selection. At this point it would be "ludicrous" to get rid of the plan, he said.

Negotiators have also been discussing land selection. During a special assembly on Nov. 28 to 30, Dehcho leaders gave permission for land selection to be discussed at the negotiations.