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Leaders allow talk on land selection

Roxanna Thompson
Northern News Services

Fort Simpson (Dec 08/06) - After much debate, leaders in the Dehcho First Nations (DFN) have agreed to allow their negotiating team to talk to the federal government about land selection.

The decision was the main result to emerge from the special assembly that was held in Fort Simpson from Nov. 28 to 30. Delegates passed the resolution on Nov. 30 after three days of group discussion.
NNSL Photo/graphic

Margaret Ireland, back left, Albert Lafferty, Alison de Pelham, George Erasmus; front left: Ria Letcher and Jim Antoine pore over the first draft of the resolution before it was distributed to delegates at the Dehcho First Nations' special assembly in Fort Simpson. - Roxanna Thompson/NNSL photo

Comments coming out of the groups followed similar lines. All felt the land was the most important consideration and are concerned the government will try to replace the existing treaties.

"The land remains a high priority, money isn't the issue," said Sam Gargan on behalf of his group.

People want to settle agreements about the land and then jurisdiction before talking about money.

"A lot of people see 2007 as a cross roads for the people in the Deh Cho," said Gargan

During the debate over the resolution and its wording, chief negotiator George Erasmus urged the leaders to vote in its favour.

"If you are going to close the door on this one I'd like you to know exactly what you're closing the door on," he said.

The goal is to find out the extent of where Canada is prepared to go in their offer, said Erasmus.

Canada made the Deh Cho an offer in May, which contained land selection. Until this point the negotiating team didn't have permission to talk to the federal government about land selection. The DFN have continually said they wouldn't accept land selection as an option in the Deh Cho process.

Grand Chief Herb Norwegian said they aren't wavering, just broadening their scope for options.

Leaders might be willing to settle for managing tracts of the Deh Cho instead of the original goal of controlling the entire region.

"We need to see what the big picture is. We need to see what it is we can live with," said Norwegian at a press conference in Yellowknife on Dec. 1.

Norwegian wouldn't say exactly how much land Canada would have to give DFN control over before they would agree to land selection.

The 39,000 square-kilometres that has been offered isn't enough, however, said Erasmus. The Tlicho received that much land but the Deh Cho's population is twice the size. Erasmus suggested that 60,000 square-kilometres would be more appropriate.

By the early spring Erasmus said he hopes to be able to report back to Deh Cho leaders on Canada's position.