Dancers gather to celebrate on the first evening of the 2022 Dehcho Annual Assembly in Fort Simpson. Caitrin Pilkington/Cabin Radio
The 2023 Dehcho Annual Assembly will be rearranged for December 12-14 in Fort Simpson, Grand Chief Herb Norwegian said in a Tuesday announcement.
Attempts to stage the assembly have suffered a series of setbacks this year.
Initially postponed by spring wildfire activity, the assembly was then planned for Nahanni Butte in August but that attempt was called off by August’s fresh wildfire crisis.
In an August announcement, the Dehcho First Nations said the 2023 edition of the assembly would be cancelled. But on Tuesday, Norwegian said that message was never meant to be interpreted as scrapping the assembly altogether.
“The language that you use around that – cancel, postpone, update – there’s a whole series of English words that you use,” said Norwegian. “Sometimes, people get postponed and cancelled confused … We’re just rescheduling the assembly to an appropriate time.”
In the past month, he said, leaders have debated hosting the assembly some time in October in either Fort Providence, Hay River or Fort Simpson, but the timing never lined up.
Last Friday, leaders decided to delay another few months and hold the assembly in the winter, which they believe will provide a number of practical advantages.
Holding the assembly in December will reduce the risk of fire-related interruptions, give people time to recover their spirits, and allow for some winter roads to open, according to Norwegian.
Further, the timing lines up with ongoing land and governance negotiations between Dehcho leadership and the federal government, who are hoping to meet in Ottawa in the first week of December.
“If that goes ahead, we’ll be presenting a number of options to the new minister on how we want to approach lands,” said Norwegian. Gary Anandasangaree became the federal minister of Crown-Indigenous relations in July, replacing Marc Miller.
Dehcho leadership have been negotiating with Canada on key points like the Dehcho Land Use Plan, which began development in 2001 and is “about 90-percent complete,” as well as establishment of Edéhzhíe, a Dene Indigenous protected area.
“One of the positions that we’ve put forward was to take a shared stewardship approach to dealing with the land issue in the Dehcho territory. So, we want to find out where Canada is at on that.”
Should the assembly run in December, Norwegian says it will allow leaders to share their reports on what took place in Ottawa and get feedback at the gathering. It would also allow them to share any movement on negotiations.
“We would then be able to bring the Christmas presents back to the Dehcho Assembly, and we’d be able to report on what we heard and what looks positive,” he said.
“The assembly would then, I’m hoping, give us a mandate to go ahead and start carving out positions so that we can start moving forward.”
This is an important moment for land negotiations on the territory, as Dehcho leadership hope to be met with a reconciliatory attitude from Ottawa. It’s also a key opportunity to forge partnerships.
‘It’s a reconciliatory kind of approach,” said Norwegian.
“This is the time to start articulating some new ideas that are out there.
“We’re thinking we can go there, make a presentation, and maybe charter a new course on how land can be dealt with right across the country instead of extinguishing, surrendering, and giving up lands.”