Nihtat Gwich’in Council Joins Gwich’in Tribal Council in Self-Government Negotiations

Two Gwich’in organizations have come together to negotiate with the territorial and federal governments with the goal of establishing community self-government.

Ken Kyikavichik, Grand Chief of the Gwich’in Tribal Council (GTC), said the Nihtat Gwich’in Council – which represents members of Inuvik, Northwest Territories – has unanimously agreed to join the JWG in self-government negotiations. This happened at the annual Nihtat Gwich’in council meeting in Inuvik last week.

“We are certainly very happy,” Kyikavichik said of the reunification.

The GTC previously negotiated the self-government of members of the Northwest Territories communities of Aklavik, Tsiigehtchic and Fort McPherson (Tetlit Zheh).

Gwich’in self-government negotiations date back to shortly after 1992, after the settlement of the Gwich’in land claim. The Nihtat Gwich’in Council was part of the Gwich’in Collaborative Government process until 2018.

Since then, the Nihtat Gwich’in Council has negotiated self-government alone with the Federal and Territorial governments, although it still sits on the GTC Board of Directors.

Kyikavichik said it was disappointing that the negotiations were never conducted separately, but he understands why.

“It was an unfortunate departure from the unity our nation has always enjoyed, but there were many reasons for this decision in 2018,” he said. “It’s clear to us that there needs to be clearer and more direct communication about this process and what a Gwich’in government might need as we move forward.

Kristine McLeod, left, the former Deputy Grand Chief of the Gwich’in Tribal Council and her brother Kelly McLeod, right, the Acting Deputy Grand Chief of the Gwich’in Tribal Council and the President of the Nihtat Gwich’in. (Mackenzie Scott / CBC)

Community regional government model

Kyikavichik said the GTC pursues a model of community-based regional government.

This would involve the creation of community governments in each of the four Gwich’in communities, and these representatives would be linked to a regional government, called the Dinjii Zhuh government.

Kyikavichik adds that it would be similar to the model of the Tłı̨chǫ government.

He said it was a milestone for the Gwich’in people and that Kristine McLeod, the former Deputy Grand Chief of the GTC, would have been proud.

“Kristine McLeod was a strong advocate for collaboration. Our communities are one, ”he said.

Kyikavichik will work with Kelly McLeod, Kristine’s brother, who is the Acting Deputy Grand Chief of the GTC and Chairman of the Board Nihtat Gwich’in.

Kyikavichik says a notice will be sent to the territorial and federal governments soon, alerting them to the Gwich’in self-government plans, but he doesn’t know when that will be.

Teresa R. Cabrera

The author Teresa R. Cabrera