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Dene anger worries MLAs
Politicians ponder how to get aboriginal groups back into devolution discussions

Tim Edwards
Northern News Services
Published Wednesday, February 9, 2011

SOMBA K'E/YELLOWKNIFE - The territorial government is at risk of sabotaging a carefully developed relationship with the territory's Dene after signing an agreement with the federal government to forge ahead on devolution agreements, say MLAs.

Devolution negotiations - which would give ownership of the territory's land and water to the GNWT from the federal government - and its high-profile opposition from the Akaitcho, Tlicho, Sahtu, Gwich'in and Dehcho First Nations groups dominated discussion at the first meeting of the fifth session of the 16th legislative assembly on Wednesday, Feb. 2.

"Aboriginal opponents say the GNWT should never have agreed to negotiate without the First Nations at the table while our government claims they were meaningfully involved all along," said Weledeh MLA Bob Bromley.

"If they were at the table and involved, how could we have created a situation where some of the fiercest critics that the government has say this agreement has destroyed the trusted partnership that's taken years to build?"

Premier Floyd Roland reiterated that he feels the groups have been involved, and that the agreement will not affect their treaty rights or unsettled land claims in any way, shape or form - but he did acknowledge the divide, and did express a desire to bring aboriginal leaders back into the fold.

"Yes, the big question is how we bring the folks back to the table for meaningful involvement?" he said, adding the government would be sending out a letter to aboriginal leaders either by the end of Wednesday or on Thursday, asking them if they would be interested in meeting the government about the issue.

Yellowknife Centre MLA Robert Hawkins expressed support for devolution but dismay that the government's side of the argument hasn't been advertised as well as the opposition's side.

He said it would take years or decades to get the same agreement that's on the table now, if the negotiations were halted at this point.

When Yellowknifer spoke with Frame Lake MLA Wendy Bisaro she expressed a similar fear.

"I'm not too sure that if we wait we'll get anything that is as good, and I don't believe that we're going to get anything that is marginally better," she said.

Bromley also noted during the meeting that he thinks all the issues with devolution need to be clarified and discussed.

"The GNWT and Canada's rush to sign the (devolution agreement-in-principle) has resulted in such confusion that (the opposition's) concerns about content, process or both remain unclear," he said.

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