Premier Caroline Cochrane has introduced a bill that aims to ensure the NWT government upholds the principles of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
The territory said the proposed legislation was created by a working group of officials from the GNWT, Indigenous governments and Indigenous organizations. It has been in the works for years.
Speaking at the legislature on Wednesday, Cochrane said the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Implementation Act will “formalize the mechanisms the GNWT will use to ensure that future laws, regulations and policies are consistent with human rights as outlined in the declaration.”
Leaders from the Tłı̨chǫ Government, Sahtu Secretariat, Salt River First Nation, North Slave Métis Alliance, NWT Métis Nation, Gwich’in Tribal Council, Inuvialuit Regional Corporation, Délı̨nę Got’ı̨nę government and Acho Dene Koe First Nation were present to show their support of the bill.
Meanwhile, the NWT Council of Leaders, which brings together the GNWT and Indigenous governments, has agreed a memorandum of understanding to continue work on the UN declaration’s objectives.
“Given that Indigenous peoples compose a significant number of the residents of the Northwest Territories, it is essential that we lead the way in terms of properly implementing the United Nations declaration,” said Ken Kyikavichik, Grand Chief of the Gwich’in Tribal Council. “This MOU establishes a framework towards achieving this.”
Absent from the event were representatives from the Dene Nation. In 2021, the Dene Nation voted to reject a federal act regarding the UN declaration over concerns about the language of several sections, which the Dene Nation said limited the rights and freedoms outlined in the rest of the declaration.
As reported by NNSL at the time, some Dene leaders and Indigenous scholars say article 46 – which states that Indigenous peoples cannot take actions that “impair, totally or in part, the territorial integrity or political unity of sovereign and independent states” – dilutes the rest of the declaration.
Article 46 was one of several issues brought up by the Dene Nation during a recent presentation to the UN Special Rapporteur.
Asked whether the NWT’s bill addresses any of the concerns raised by the Dene Nation, Cochrane said the bill will focus on areas of common ground.
“It took a lot of time, a lot of officials, a lot of people – and I really congratulate all the people that worked on this – to actually find areas that were common, that we agreed on,” said Cochrane.
“Dene Nation might not agree with it, but we have chiefs here from within the Dene Nation that do agree with it. The work that we’re doing, the memorandum of understanding, will not be signed by 100 percent of all Indigenous governments. It’s a majority.”
Danny Gaudet, Ɂek’wahtı̨dǝ́ of the Délı̨nę Got’ı̨nę Government, said leaders should focus on the possible good that stands to come from the bill.
“I understand that Dene Nation was opposed to some aspects of the declaration,” he said. “But in the end, you know, our community in Délı̨nę has been fighting an uphill battle to have our right to self-government recognized.
“Over the years, we’ve come to realize that we’re not going to get everything we want today, at one table, at one sitting. It’s a long journey, a long process, and documents like this might not be perfect, but they help that process.”
More details of the bill are expected to be released this week. Its full text was not immediately available, meaning it is not yet clear how the approach outlined in the bill will be substantially different than current efforts between the GNWT and Indigenous leaders to collaborate on governance.
Cochrane said the bill’s main deliverable will be a framework for implementation of the UN declaration.
“This isn’t going to happen overnight,” she said.
“It took us three years just to get to this bill, and the hard work is just beginning.
“It’s not about just putting a bill out there that says, ‘We recognize your rights.’ We’ve been doing that too long. This is about starting that work.”