Leaders of the K'asho Got'ine government risk losing $1 million by delaying an agreement to create a protected area outside Fort Good Hope, a key negotiator has warned.
Stephen Kakfwi told Cabin Radio he spent 15 years helping to negotiate the establishment of the Ts’udé Nilįné Tuyeta protected area – but left the role last week in dismay at the local government's refusal to proceed with signing a final agreement.
Community members have already voted, 93 to 54, to establish the protected area, also known as the Ramparts River and Wetlands. It covers 10,000 square kilometres west of the Mackenzie River considered exceptionally ecologically diverse, while also a sacred place and harvesting area for the Dene and Métis of Fort Good Hope.
Kakfwi thinks "pettiness" among community leaders is to blame for the delay, and warned $1 million in federal money attached to the protected area may not be spent if the agreement is not signed soon.
"It's a community in trouble. I can't make heads or tails of it," said Kakfwi on Tuesday morning, hoping to pressure the leaders to reconsider.
"I'm just concerned now that if we leave them unaccountable, they will lose a million dollars."
The leaders themselves say more time is needed for consultation, with Chief Daniel Masuzumi only recently elected.
"Money is not the driving factor," Edwin Erutse, president of the Yamoga Land Corporation, told the CBC. "It's more about ensuring the leadership is satisfied with how the whole agreement is structured and the role that the community and the people are playing.
"I want to protect the ramparts from any future oil and gas or any type of mineral exploration. We're just making sure all the parties to the agreement are happy, are satisfied with the agreement, [and have a] solid understanding."
Erutse, Chief Masuzumi, and Métis leadership must join the NWT government in signing the final agreement to create the protected area. The Behdzi Ahda' First Nation of Colville Lake and Ayoni Keh Land Corporation are also involved in the process.
Kakfwi thinks the K'asho Got'ine government leaders are stalling.
"Even though the community has voted in favour and a substantial number of elders are core supporters, these young leaders are not willing to go ahead," he said.
"This would flow about a million dollars this year to build cabins, to buy equipment, to set up a guardians program, an office, a management board.
"We could have had this signed by July. We pushed them to organize a vote, they finally did, and now they are not respecting the results of the vote. Why work on something for over 20 years and, without any substantive reason, refuse to ratify it?"
The territorial government said it's awaiting final ratification from local leaders but stressed the forthcoming NWT election period need not interfere with getting the agreement signed. Cabinet ministers remain in place through the election period.
"The GNWT is awaiting confirmation from the K’asho Got’ine that their ratification process has been completed," said Joslyn Oosenbrug, a Department of Environment and Natural Resources spokesperson, by email.
"Signing of the agreement is dependent on final ratification by the K’asho Got’ine.
"The GNWT has the ability to sign the agreement during the election period."
Oosenbrug said the protected area has a "foundation of community collaboration with the territorial and federal governments in a conservation planning process that began in 2007.
"Recent negotiations have resulted in a completed agreement which outlines how Ts’udé Nilįné Tuyeta will be established and collaboratively managed as a territorial protected area," she wrote.
Six species at risk – the peregrine falcon, grizzly bear, mountain caribou, wolverine, short-eared owl, and boreal woodland caribou – are found in Ts’udé Nilįné Tuyeta.
The territory says the Ramparts River watershed within the area is a critical wetland and habitat for ducks, geese, and loons.
Becoming a protected area means activities that don't protect biodiversity, ecology, and culture are prohibited, while no mining, oil, or gas exploration or development can take place.
Correction: 19:59 MT – August 27, 2019. This article earlier incorrectly stated cabinet is dissolved during an election period. In fact, cabinet ministers remain assigned to their portfolios until a Territorial Leadership Committee meets following the election, at which point a new cabinet is named.