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Dehcho First Nations considering land selection

Jessica Klinkenberg
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Dec 04/06) - After years of vowing to avoid a land selection process, Dehcho First Nations leaders are now considering that very option.

Due to recent setbacks and worries over the federal government's priorities, aboriginal leaders from the Deh Cho may settle for managing certain tracts of their traditional territory, rather than trying to control the entire region.

"It's been quite a juggling act for us over the years. With this new government you never know," Dehcho Grand Chief Herb Norwegian conceded following a regional leadership meeting last week.

But the 39,000 square kilometres that the federal government offered in May is inadequate, according to Norwegian and chief negotiator Georges Erasmus, who held a press conference in Yellowknife on Friday morning.

"(The government of) Canada had made a very particular, peculiar offer," Norwegian said.

The Tlicho essentially received the same deal, however, with double the Tlicho's population, Norwegian said the amount of territory under Dehcho management should reflect that.

"We need to keep the land intact as much as possible," he said. "We're dealing with a window here. (We're) hoping that the government can meet us halfway."

Erasmus added, "Obviously the target is to have as much control as possible... the land is what's important, it's not the money."

Until it's decided whether the Dehcho will accept a land selection process, its chiefs and Metis presidents have asked the federal government not to allow any prospecting permits in the region, Erasmus said.

"It's our hope that if we seriously consider selecting the land, we want to do it before third party selections," he said. "The Dehcho aren't interested in dividing their land. The whole culture is on the land."

Norwegian said it's crucial that Dehcho beneficiaries have a thorough grasp of any agreement and its implications.

"The biggest concern that people had in the communities is that they would be coerced into signing a deal they didn't understand," he said.