Dehcho First Nations negotiators are pushing for regional consensus on a range of issues before approaching the NWT government with a proposal for self-government.
Lead negotiator and former Deh Cho MLA Michael Nadli, lawyer Chris Reid and Grand Chief Herb Norwegian took questions at a virtual town hall held on Tuesday evening.
The DFN is seeking to definitively establish sovereignty over the way 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 the focus over the next few months will be on clarifying the DFN right to self-government and defining how that will look, rather than on land claims.
But Norwegian stressed he would like to see conversations about land claims proceed alongside those discussions.
“When I went into this election, I made it very clear that I wanted to get negotiations back on track,” said Norwegian in his opening address. “That includes lands and resources. That is how I was elected. So I see this as a mandate from the assembly.”
Regular meetings to reach regional agreement on a proposal for self-government will take place over the coming months.
“Recent discussions focused on governance at both a regional, or tribal, and at a community level,” said Nadli.
“Programs and services around education, health, language and culture were mentioned [by regional leaders] as being priorities for self-government.”
But land claims aren’t completely off the table. The DFN’s land-use planning committee is aiming 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.
Over the course of Tuesday’s meeting, negotiators fielded questions concerning how self-government would work and where previous negotiations had stalled.
“Has anyone completed a financial analysis of what revenues the Dehcho will need in the future to be sustainable and self-governing?” asked Rosemary Gill.
“In our upcoming meetings, we’ll be making an effort to look at just how much fiscal resources, just how much revenue we’ll need for an operating Dehcho government,” said Nadli in his response.
“This is why continuing work on the land-use plan is key,” added Norwegian. “We have identified major areas throughout our territory where we’re rich with oil and gas, rich with minerals, rich with timber, there are incredible agricultural opportunities in the Mackenzie Valley… the market is there.
“The potential is there. There’s no question of whether we could sustain ourselves… once this is settled, we could probably go a little beyond that.”
Negotiators promised to announce the date of the next town hall meeting by early September.