The Dehcho First Nations – or DFN – will establish its own land code in the coming months, outlining how land and resources in the region should be governed.
The organization said it will create rules and processes based on Dene laws and values for the issuing of leases and land permits, land use planning, and environmental assessments.
Creating such a code marks an assertion of Dehcho First Nations authority over the land in question, which the group says is a bid to resolve “confusion” over the role of the territorial and federal governments.
The position of those governments regarding the DFN land code was not immediately clear.
When complete, DFN says the code will apply to any individual or company looking to use any of the Dehcho’s 250,000 square kilometres of land and water, including projects related to mining and forestry.
“Dene and descendants have an inherent duty to govern and protect our lands and resources. We will work with the Crown and remind the world that Dene and descendants are still here,” Grand Chief of the Dehcho First Nations Kenneth Cayen was quoted as saying in a Monday news release.
“The Dehcho First Nations have an inherent obligation to uphold Treaty 11 as long as the sun shines, the grass grows, and the river flows,” Cayen said.
The Kátł’odeeche First Nation passed a similar land law last year that gave the First Nation control over its own resources and land.
The DFN code will be constructed in consultation with communities and the federal and territorial governments, the group said, and a public consultation will be held once a draft of the code is available.
The code is intended to reaffirm Treaty 11 rights signed in 1921. DFN says those rights recognize no other government authority over DFN land.
DFN said the people of the land “have always governed and protected their lands and have never surrendered or sold any of their rights, including the inherent right to govern their lands.”
Exactly what Treaty 11 governs, including the surrender of land, has been disputed. Many witnesses to the original treaty talks say the surrender of land, though mentioned in the text, was never on the table during that year’s discussions.
DFN says negotiations since 1999 with the territorial and federal governments have yet to produce a final agreement to “recognize the authority of the Dehcho government over its own lands and resources.”
Those talks have been suspended since 2015, according to DFN.
According to the territorial government’s website, negotiations with DFN since July 2019 have focused on self-government.
“At the July 2019 Dehcho Annual General Assembly, Dehcho leadership received direction pursue a modular approach to negotiations that would set aside lands and resources negotiations for the time being and focus negotiations on self-government only,” that website reads.
DFN said the federal government and GNWT have “a different understanding of the treaty, which has led to confusion and uncertainty as to which government has the authority to legislate in relation to the management and protection of lands and resources in the Dehcho territory.”
DFN said the territorial government has “claimed this authority and has acted as if it has jurisdiction to manage Dehcho lands and resources, against strenuous objections of the DFN.
“This has led to further confusion and tension in the area.”
The group added its land code will clarify matters for those living on the land and people wanting to use or occupy lands or resources on Dehcho territory.
“DFN will simultaneously request that Canada and the GNWT acknowledge their jurisdiction over the lands and resources of their territory and acknowledge that the Dehcho land code is paramount over any federal or territorial legislation,” Monday’s news release concluded.