The clerk of the NWT's Legislative Assembly issued a statement apologizing to the Délı̨nę Got’ı̨ne Government after the territory's new MLAs failed to invite the community to a roundtable discussion last week.
However, Délı̨nę's elected leader told Cabin Radio he had not received any such apology directly from the clerk or any representative of the NWT government.
The Sahtu community's Ɂek'wahtı̨dǝ́, or "highest honest leader," Leeroy Andre said Délı̨nę's signed memorandum of understanding with the territory was "just words" if not backed up by meaningful action.
Délı̨nę achieved self-government in 2015 after decades of negotiations.
Earlier this week, Andre spoke out about his government's omission from a roundtable discussion between Indigenous leaders, community government leaders, and newly elected MLAs on October 17.
Indigenous governments from land claims settlement regions, Métis organizations, and the territory's reserves were invited – the latter after discussion with MLAs, a news release from the Legislative Assembly on Thursday stated.
Some requests to participate from "community governments that remain part of a regional government or land claim agreement" were "respectfully declined" to make sure the meeting didn't grow too large, that news release added.
However, assembly clerk Tim Mercer went on to apologize to Andre and his community, stating: "We made the assumption that the Sahtu Secretariat Incorporated and the Sahtu Dene Council, both of whom were invited, were in a position to speak on behalf of all the communities of the Sahtu.
"This is obviously not the case and I wish to extend a sincere apology to Ɂekw'ahtı̨dǝ́ Andre and the Délı̨nę K’aowǝdó Ke for this oversight."
Reached later on Thursday, Andre said he felt disheartened not to have been contacted directly with this information. Instead, he said, the news release was shared with him by a contact.
"I'm sure there are mixed messages that these bureaucrats are faced with on a daily basis," Andre said, "but they need to start doing their homework and seeing who represents Délı̨nę, who represents Tulita, who represents Norman Wells, and find a mechanism for them to start communicating directly with the stakeholders that should be at the table."
The Sahtu Secretariat Incorporated, which was invited to the meeting, is a "land claim organization representing our land and money interest" and not a political group, Andre said.
He continued: "Being misrepresented by other groups is just something that I don't take lightly."
'Voice for our people'
As a fly-in community, Andre said Délı̨nę cannot advocate for its residents as easily as settlements connected to Yellowknife by road. While he said contact with the NWT government is important, on Thursday he questioned whether members of his community were "wasting our time trying to deal with them."
During the 18th Assembly, Andre claimed little was done for his community – no new roads, schools, infrastructure, or programs and services, he said. While the community has achieved self-government, it still relies on the territory for provision of many programs and services in education, healthcare, and housing.
One issue of particular concern is the diminishing season of the ice road into the community – from 30 days two years ago to 25 days last season.
"For us to get our goods in for the year, we have to be on the ball – and the GNWT needs be on that ball, too, in making sure that we have alternatives for the ice road," said Andre, who thinks a bridge over the Great Bear River could provide a future option.
Andre said he has yet to speak with the Sahtu's new MLA and newly elected member of cabinet Paulie Chinna, but is hopeful she can deliver some change.
"We're hoping that she can be that voice for our people and that's one reason why she's elected, right, to represent our interests," he said.
"Hopefully she doesn't become the voice of the territorial government, but she becomes the voice for the people of the Sahtu region."