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Smith’s Landing to host Dene National Assembly in 2023


The Dene National Assembly will be hosted by the Smith’s Landing First Nation in 2023, celebrating 50 years since the landmark Paulette Case ruling.

Smith’s Landing First Nation’s Francois Paulette and 16 other Dene leaders filed a legal caveat in 1973 that asserted Dene people had not surrendered their rights or land in signing Treaty 8 and Treaty 11.

Supreme Court Justice William Morrow decided Paulette and colleagues had established that Indigenous people never intended to give up their rights and title.

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They ultimately lost the broader case, in which they sought recognition of Indigenous title over a large area of Treaty 8 and Treaty 11 land, but Morrow’s ruling is considered a legal landmark that paved the way for modern land claims processes – and the Berger Inquiry later that decade.

Francois Paulette speaks at the Dene National Assembly in 1978. Rene Fumoleau/NWT Archives

Chief Kele Antoine of the Łı́ı́dlı̨ı̨ Kų́ę́ First Nation noted the ruling’s 50th anniversary at a meeting of Dene leaders last week.

“Just looking at the history and the importance of the Paulette Case, I think it’s very vital on so many levels – spiritually being one of the big ones – that Smith’s Landing hosts the Dene National Assembly,” Antoine said.

“That’s where Francois is from, and his son is the chief. I think it’s going to be an amazing event.”

More: Reaffirming the Dene version of Treaty 11 a hundred years later

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Chief Thaidene Paulette expressed excitement at combining the Dene National Assembly with the First Nation’s annual July 17 treaty day celebrations in the community of Fort Fitzgerald.

“No matter what day of the week it falls on, weekend or weekday, we always host a big event,” the younger Paulette told the same Dene Nation meeting.

“So we would probably see fit that [the national assembly] would fall around that time of year, July 17 … Everybody at home’s already gearing up. They know it’s the 50th of the Paulette Case. My dad just lives a few hundred feet away from there.”

The dates for the 2023 assembly were not finalized, but a motion to assign Smith’s Landing as the host was passed as last week’s meeting drew to a close.

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