Herb Norwegian, left, embraces Rita Cli after his election as Dehcho Grand Chief. Caitrin Pilkington/Cabin Radio
Herb Norwegian is embarking on a fifth term as Grand Chief of the Dehcho First Nations after his election on Tuesday. What will that look like?
Norwegian has been involved in land claim negotiations and advocacy for Dene people since the 1970s, when the organization now known as the Dene Nation was called the Indian Brotherhood.
Influenced by the American Indian Movement and Black Panthers, the group scared Ottawa and electrified the North, achieving important victories for Indigenous sovereignty.
Since then, Norwegian has served as vice president of the Dene Nation, chief of the Łı́ı́dlı̨ı̨ Kų́ę́ First Nation, and negotiator for the Dehcho Process. In 2018, he won the Glen Davis Conservation Leadership Prize.
At this week’s Dehcho Annual Assembly, hosted by the Łı́ı́dlı̨ı̨ Kų́ę́ First Nation in Fort Simpson, Norwegian and other candidates answered questions before the election of a new grand chief took place. Norwegian subsequently defeated rivals Jim Antoine and Tim Lennie in a Tuesday election.
Here’s how Norwegian responded to a selection of questions and concerns before delegates voted.
Comments have been condensed and edited for clarity.
The Łı́ı́dlı̨ı̨ Kų́ę́ First Nation asked candidates how they would regroup the Dehcho.
Herb Norwegian: From a Dene perspective, we breathe the same air, we walk on the same land, drink the same water. It all comes down to government policies that make it seem like you get a better deal if you go off on your own.
There are a lot of things happening that keep us together. The river that runs through all our land. Our minds are the only things separating us.
The Nahɂą Dehé Dene Band asked candidates how they would make their presence known in smaller communities.
Small communities can bring about powerful changes. I would like to propose a leadership meeting in Nahanni Butte. We need to start having more meetings, centring ourselves in small communities. They have the force and energy we need.
The West Point First Nation asked how candidates would protect First Nations when governments expand cities into their land.
Land transfers concern the large chunks of land drawn up around communities. The idea was that at some point these settlements were going to expand. This took place without First Nation consultation. We need to block land transfers. They didn’t have the authority to build there to begin with.
The Pehdzeh Ki First Nation asked how youth can be involved in the Dehcho Process.
Young people should be involved in every aspect of Dehcho life. Co-chairing meetings, taking on leadership roles. I encourage that, I would like to see them at the table.
The Tthets’éhk’edélî First Nation asked candidates about their approach to climate change adaptation.
We need more research on the land to understand what is happening and the scope of the problem. In particular, we need to understand permafrost slumps and increase monitoring. We need to start preparing and we do that by research, by managing our water, by creating an effective land-use plan.
The Sambaa K’e First Nation raised the community’s alcohol and drug problem and need for treatment centres.
People are moving into large communities. They’ve left the land behind, and a lot of us aren’t used to this kind of lifestyle. The young people aren’t attached to the land. It’s coming to a point now where I’m thinking spending a night or so out on the land isn’t good enough. People need to be living out on the land, and we need to have cabins for them. These huge areas where people used to live, young people need to go back to these areas.
I used to drive with my dad down to Fort Providence and, every so often, there was a house with somebody living there. Today, you make the same trip, and you see nothing but trees and crumbling cabins that are slowly falling apart. We’ve left our land and moved into communities to enjoy the comfort and luxury lifestyle, and drugs are part of that culture. People have gotten used to that, they’ve bought into it.
The Ka’a’gee Tu First Nation asked which qualities are lacking in leaders today.
I’m not sure about that, but I can say what I offer as a leader. I grew up in the bush, I speak the language, my way of life is out in the land and that will continue. I bring common sense to the table.
The Fort Providence Métis Council asked how Métis concerns will be addressed and raised Métis representation at negotiating tables.
We all come from one people. If you want to start saying there is a difference between us, you have to look at what we’re trying to do to one another.
Thirty years ago, there were no distinctions between us. It’s government policy that segregates us and continues to segregate us. The government tried to split up the Métis, and I am very proud that we have remained united. We’re all one organization in the Dehcho. We are one people, one blood.
Métis people have contributed a great deal to this organization over the years. If we are to rally our troops and move forward, they will be a part of it. If they have qualified people, if they want to come on board, the more the merrier.
The Kátł’odeeche First Nation asked how candidates would address the mental health crisis in Dehcho communities.
I have a common-sense approach to mental health. If we get to the issues at the root of these problems, if we can fix the problems in our communities, we can properly fight this crisis.
The Deh Gáh Got’îê First Nation asked how a lack of childcare in communities will be addressed.
If there’s employment, people need places to care for their kids. Education while they’re young is so important. It’s an issue for young parents who want to go to work. We’re all struggling with this.
The Fort Simpson Métis Council asked how a Dehcho government will be financed once the land claim is settled.
The job of taking care of ourselves is going to be an interesting one. Education, health, all those things are important, and we will need to have funding. But all the land where development occurs would be land that we own.
The last thing we want to do is rely on government handouts. We want to sustain ourselves. Our land is rich, we’re rich with resources, we have opportunities to be creative. But right now, we’re at a standstill. If we can come up with a good agreement, the money will come from the land.