Dehcho First Nations negotiators are pushing for regional consensus on a range of issues before approaching the Government of the Northwest Territories with a self-government proposal.
Chief negotiator and former Deh Cho MP Michael Nadli, lawyer Chris Reid and Grand Chief Herb Norwegian answered questions during a virtual town hall on Tuesday evening.
The DFN seeks to permanently establish sovereignty over how the following systems are run in Dehcho communities: justice, education, traditional medicine, culture and language, marriage, adoption and child welfare, income assistance and social housing, and Wills and Estates.
Negotiators told members that, over the next few months, the focus will be on clarifying the DFN’s right to self-government and defining what it will look like, rather than land claims.
But Norwegian stressed that he would like to see conversations about land claims taking place alongside these talks.
“When I walked into this election, I made it very clear that I wanted to get the negotiations back on track,” Norwegian said in his opening speech. “This includes land and resources. This is how I was elected. So I see that as a mandate from the assembly.
Regular meetings to reach regional agreement on a self-government proposal will take place over the coming months.
“Recent discussions have focused on governance both at the regional or tribal level and at the community level,” Nadli said.
“Programs and services around education, health, language and culture were mentioned [by regional leaders] as priorities for self-government.
But land claims are not completely irrelevant. The DFN Land Use Planning Committee aims to complete a new plan that can be presented to the territorial government by 2025.
Nadli said public forums will continue on a monthly basis as negotiators and leaders provide updates.
During Tuesday’s meeting, negotiators answered questions about how self-government works and the stalemate of previous negotiations.
“Has anyone done a financial analysis of the revenues the Dehcho will need in the future to be sustainable and self-sufficient? asked Rosemary Gill.
“At our next meetings, we will endeavor to consider the financial resources and revenues we will need for a functioning Dehcho government,” Nadli said in his response.
“That’s why continued work on the land use plan is essential,” added Norwegian. “We have identified major areas throughout our territory where we are rich in oil and gas, rich in minerals, rich in timber, there are incredible agricultural opportunities in the Mackenzie Valley…the market is there.
“The potential is there. There’s no doubt that we could hold our own…once that’s sorted out, we could probably go a little beyond that.
The negotiators have promised to announce the date of the next public meeting by early September.