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Dene have stake in high Arctic: Erasmus
Gwich'in and Inuvialuit angered by Dene Nations opposition to offshore drilling

Shawn Giilck
Northern News Services
Published Monday, May 27, 2013

Dene National Chief Bill Erasmus says no one is forcing the Gwich'in and Inuvialuit to sign anything they're not comfortable with after representatives of the First Nations condemned news that aboriginal groups have signed a statement calling for tough new measures to control economic development in the Arctic.

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Dene National Chief Bill Erasmus says no one is forcing the Gwich'in and Inuvialuit to sign anything they're not comfortable with.

The Joint Statement for Arctic Protection was signed earlier this month in Kiruna, Sweden, during the Arctic Indigenous Peoples Conference, organized by Greenpeace. It calls for an end to offshore drilling and a "pause in Northern projects" unless local aboriginal groups agree to it.

Signatories include Erasmus and Canada's fellow Arctic Council participant, the Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North.

"They probably feel they should be part of something they draft themselves and that's their prerogative," said Erasmus.

"The comments I made when the release came out is that Treaty 11, for example, and some of Treaty 8 goes all the way up to the Arctic coast. It goes to Coppermine, takes in Paulatuk, takes in Tuk and goes to the Yukon border. And, because those treaties are international instruments, they go 200 miles out into the Beaufort Sea, so the Dene do have an interest ... this is why I'm speaking out."

Gwich'in Tribal Council (GTC) president Robert Alexie Jr. reacted to the announcement with strong words, as did Inuvialuit Regional Corporation President Nellie Cournoyea.

Alexie said the GTC was not consulted about the statement beforehand. The Gwich'in are part of the Dene Nation, of which Erasmus is chief.

"It came out of the blue. First, those who signed the joint statement do not represent, nor do they speak for the Gwich'in Tribal Council," said Alexie. "The Gwich'in Tribal Council is an independent organization representing the 3,400 Gwich'in who are enrolled pursuant to the Gwich'in Agreement.

"We are an independent organization, and I take offence when others take it upon themselves to speak for us or to attempt to represent us, and to make statements that may affect the economy in our settlement area and the future of our people without consulting us."

Alexie said the GTC is in favour of carefully-considered economic and development initiatives in the region.

"We are very careful and adamant that the land should be preserved as much as possible," he said. "We're not going to destroy the land, but we are looking for employment opportunities."

Alexie said he and other members of the GTC believe some careful and cautious development, including

possibly offshore drilling, "will provide a lot of employment."

In an e-mail statement to Inuvik Drum, Cournoyea was on the same page as Alexie.

"We have made tremendous gains as Inuit to settle our land claims so that we can have a major say in what is going on in the Arctic," she stated. "As Inuvialuit, we have our land claim that was settled in 1984. The Inuvialuit, along with other Inuit institutions, are also part of the Inuit Circumpolar Council, which has been actively involved with the Arctic Council and have continued dialogue with the Arctic Council.

"We don't need people like Greenpeace and Bill Erasmus speaking on our behalf. Their statements are disrespectful to us and what we are doing in our region."

"The Inuvialuit are in favour of balanced development," Cournoyea stated. "We have well-respected institutions such as the Inuvialuit Game Council, which is well-known around the world for their approach to the co-management of resources. They do their own research to determine what protections are appropriate, and I have full confidence that they will do the right thing. We deal with issues such as this every day."

Erasmus also attended the Arctic Council as part of the Arctic Athabascan Council. He said the trip was not financed through the Dene National Assembly.

It is Canada's turn at the helm of the council and Nunavut MP Leona Aglukkaq has assumed the position of chair for two years.

"We welcome that. It will be brought closer to home and people in Canada will see how (the council) works. They'll realize, for example, that as permanent participants, indigenous people have a real say at the table," said Erasmus.

- with files from Kassina Ryder

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