A new protocol from the Intergovernmental Council of the Northwest Territories is said to give Indigenous governments a seat at the table for decisions about land and resource management.
In a news conference last week, Premier Caroline Cochrane and Tłı̨chǫ Grand Chief George Mackenzie announced the council had unanimously approved what is known as a legislative development protocol.
The protocol gives Indigenous governments equal decision-making power when drafting laws, policies, and regulations for lands and resources.
In other words, the NWT government is no longer simply required to consult Indigenous governments but must actively work alongside them in those areas.
The Intergovernmental Council consists of nine Indigenous governments across the NWT – such as the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation, the Northwest Territory Métis Nation, and Tłı̨chǫ Government – and the territorial government.
“The protocol recognizes that we are co-governing on this territory,” Cochrane said. “The GNWT is not a higher government – we are equal at the table, and that is the message we want to carry forward as we continue this work.”
According to Cochrane, this protocol is the first of its kind in Canada and supports the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, an international rights document Cochrane’s government has pledged to implement as a priority.
Grand Chief Mackenzie called the protocol’s announcement “an important day for the Territories.”
“We are setting a path for real collaboration and real consensus decision-making on these important matters,” Mackenzie said. “No longer will bills be made for us. Now … we’ll make the laws together.
“It shows how Indigenous people can take their rightful place in developing laws that affect the land and the resources.”
The protocol follows a 2014 agreement on land and resource management that promised collaboration with Indigenous governments in the same areas.
Previously, the GNWT held the duty to consult Indigenous governments when drafting legislation but ultimately had the final say.
Now, Indigenous governments will hold a more active role in the entire process.
“In this process, it might take a bit longer,” Cochrane explained, “but we will actually sit at the table together and come to an agreement so that when the legislation is formed, it will be mutually agreeable legislation to Indigenous governments and the Government of the Northwest Territories.
“That is the difference – working together versus the term ‘consult.’”
Kristine McLeod, Deputy Grand Chief of the Gwich’in Tribal Council, and Garry Bailey, president of the NWT Métis Nation, were also present at last week’s news conference.
“We’ve been fighting for this since 1899, 1900,” Bailey said. “Before, it was just taken and shoved down our throats. It’s no longer like that.
“I think other governments around the world can learn from what we’ve done. We may have our differences now and then, but we will find a way to work these things out.”
Deputy Grand Chief McLeod added: “It allows us [Indigenous governments] to take our rightful place together, leading the future of the North.”