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'For as long as this land shall last'
Tlicho celebrate 10th anniversary of self-government agreement

Daron Letts
Northern News Services
Monday, August 10, 2015

Tlicho children who were not yet born in 2005 skipped rocks on Great Slave Lake, enjoyed moose and fish with elders and drum-danced in celebration of a decade of Tlicho self-government last week.

NNSL photo/graphic

Joseph Zoe warms up his drum prior to a traditional feeding the fire and drum dance ceremonies. - Walter Strong/NNSL photo

"This is for them," said Tlicho Grand Chief Eddie Erasmus, while attending the feast and drum dance held in Behchoko on Aug. 6.

"They are our future leaders and we would like them to learn about the Tlicho Agreement. Our elders have always told us that our youngest generation is our future and this agreement is for them."

Residents of Wekweeti, Gameti and Whati gathered in Behchoko to mark the 10th anniversary of the implementation of the Tlicho Land Claims and Self-government Agreement, which came into effect on Aug. 4, 2005. The document represents the first combined land, resource and self-government agreement achieved in the territory according to which the Tlicho, who now own 39,000 square kilometres of land, including subsurface resources, in the region that has four Tlicho communities.

The agreement also established self-government for the First Nation, with law-making authority over Tlicho citizens in Tlicho communities and on Tlicho lands that touches on education, adoption, child and family services, training, income support, social housing, and Tlicho language and culture.

"We're now actually running a government and we've gained a lot of experience how to work with other governments, like the territorial government and the federal government and that's a big gain for us," said Erasmus.

"The strength is there because unity is there. If we have unity we are strong both governance-wise and economically in business."

The Tlicho Investment Corporation has contributed about $450 million to the territorial economy in four years, he added.

"(The Tlicho Agreement) has really contributed to an improved economy in the NWT," said Premier Bob McLeod, who attended last week's celebration.

"The Tlicho people now have the tools to achieve self-determination and strengthen control over their land and resources."

Programs and services currently delivered by the GNWT will gradually be taken over by the Tlicho Government in the next couple of years, he continued.

With Tlicho 10 years of self-government has come exponential growth in opportunities for meaningful aboriginal employment that has outpaced aboriginal participation and advancement in other government and private sector organizations.

"We are mostly aboriginal people in the government," said Cecilia Rabesca, manager of human resources with the Tlicho Government. "The changes in that part is very nice to see. Most of the managers are aboriginal - 90 per cent are aboriginal people. Lots of younger people are working in areas where you don't usually see young people. That is very, very nice."

Dene National Chief Bill Erasmus described last week's drum dance as "emotional and moving."

"A lot of people who have been involved in the negotiations and implementing of the agreement were there who spoke out very openly about their experience and it brought back a lot of memories and thoughts on the whole process so far," he said. "This is real. People are making history as we go along with this."

Other Northern First Nations can learn from the Tlicho's lead, he said.

"In order to get an agreement of this magnitude in place they really have to focus in. This has to be their main priority and they have to put everything else aside and focus in on this and get the job done," he said, adding the current federal election offers opportunities to hold politicians and candidates accountable for continuing to enact the agreement.

"We need to emphasize that these agreements need to be in the Prime Minister's office at the highest level, no different from the (North American Free Trade Agreement) or other treaties that are out there," Erasmus said.

"There should also be a mechanism to ensure that monitoring of those agreements and then follow-up, for example either through the United Nations or an international process that has to live up to those highest standards."

After shaking hands with the Tlicho grand chief after last week's feast, the Dene grand chief went to the shoreline and skipped rocks with the children.

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