The NWT and Tłı̨chǫ governments say they have resolved their differences over how infrastructure contracts on Tłı̨chǫ lands are awarded.
The Tłı̨chǫ Government last month accused the territory of showing “complete disrespect” by publicly tendering work on the Rae access road without offering a direct negotiated contract with the Tłı̨chǫ.
In a joint news release on Friday afternoon, the NWT government appeared to climb down by promising to directly negotiate future infrastructure contracts in the region with Tłı̨chǫ businesses.
The territorial government said it would include “minimum Tłı̨chǫ labour and contracting requirements” in competitive tenders where direct negotiation was not possible. The circumstances under which direct negotiation would be impossible were not clear.
Meanwhile, the same news release stated RTL Construction – the successful bidder on the Rae access road project – had agreed to ensure a quarter of work on the project was performed by the Tłı̨chǫ Investment Corporation.
Last month, the Tłı̨chǫ Government said the Rae access road tender provided for “no Tłı̨chǫ employment and no Tłı̨chǫ subcontracting commitments” and was “denying our people, who have been hurt by the pandemic, the best opportunity to rebuild their economic lives.”
The territorial government said at the time it was reviewing its procurement processes. A separate tender for work on North Arm Park, which is in the Tłı̨chǫ region, was cancelled. The status of that project is not clear.
“The GNWT signed a treaty with the Tłı̨chǫ and Canada that promised to help Tłı̨chǫ become self-sufficient,” Tłı̨chǫ Grand Chief George Mackenzie said in Friday’s joint news release.
“We took up the fight over this project because it is essential for our people to share in the wealth and economy of the NWT. I am pleased that we have found a way to achieve that and move forward in our Treaty relationship.”
NWT Premier Caroline Cochrane said in the same news release: “The Government of the Northwest Territories is committed to building a strong relationship with the Tłı̨chǫ Government and continuing to find ways to work better together.
“This agreement will ensure that there is a clear understanding of the GNWT’s approach to procurement in the region.”
A broader review of how procurement works in the NWT is under way and is a stated priority of the territorial government in its four-year mandate.
Work to improve procurement is currently not scheduled for completion until 2022. Responsibility for procurement was recently moved from the Department of Infrastructure to the Department of Finance.
The NWT government has been facing objections to its procurement practices on multiple fronts.
Last week, the Yellowknives Dene First Nation withdrew support for the Slave Geological Province highway – one of the NWT government’s most ambitious and costly projects – after related contracts were not awarded to its companies.
The First Nation claimed that the procurement process for the highway was flawed.
The NWT’s new commitment to directly negotiate with the Tłı̨chǫ may open the way for other Indigenous governments to seek similar pledges.