NWT strikes committee to scrutinize land claims, UN declaration

A new committee of MLAs will scrutinize the GNWT’s work on treaty negotiations, self-government agreements, and implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Creation of the Special Committee on Reconciliation and Indigenous Affairs was announced on Monday. There are five members: finance minister Caroline Wawzonek, justice minister RJ Simpson, Lesa Semmler of Inuvik Twin Lakes, Steve Norn of Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh, and Rylund Johnson of Yellowknife North.

Johnson introduced Monday’s motion to create the committee, which – according to a news release – will focus on “encouraging discussions and producing recommendations in relation to Aboriginal Rights negotiations and reconciliation with the Northwest Territories’ Indigenous Peoples.”


Premier Caroline Cochrane’s government has committed to settling land claims and implementing the UN declaration.

Semmler said in a statement: “The creation of this special committee brings us one step closer to achieving a healthier relationship between the Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples of the Northwest Territories.”

Lesa Semmler
Lesa Semmler, the MLA for Inuvik Twin Lakes, at the NWT legislature in October 2019. Sarah Pruys/Cabin Radio

The committee’s duties include analyzing unresolved rights and treaty negotiations in the territory and making recommendations for NWT government action.

Meanwhile, committee members will examine the territory’s progress toward implementing the UN declaration advancing Indigenous rights, which was first adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2007.

Articles in the declaration focus on the Indigenous right to self-determination and self-government, freedom from discrimination, and the right to “free, prior, and informed consent” regarding development projects on traditional territories.


Canada, one of four countries to refuse to sign the declaration in 2007, eventually endorsed the document in 2010 – with the understanding that, as an international document, it was not legally binding.

Only British Columbia has since written the UN declaration into provincial law, giving its articles a form of legal standing prosecutable should they be violated.

If the NWT follows suit as Cochrane’s government has pledged, the territory would be the second province or territory in the country to do so.