Deh Cho eye resource management
Proposed board combines tradition and technology

Daniel MacIsaac
Northern News Services

NNSL (Feb 15/99) - In planning for the future, Dennis Nelner says you have to look to the past.

Executive secretary to the Grand Chief of the Deh Cho Regional Council in Fort Simpson, Nelner is helping formulate a proposal for a new kind of resource management board.

"We want to look at integrating and legitimizing traditional knowledge so that it is on par with western knowledge and western society," he said Wednesday in Yellowknife, where he was participating in an environmental conference.

Reacting to what Nelner described as the westernization of the North and bureaucratization of resource management, the Deh Cho want to balance tradition and technology. And while the idea of traditional knowledge is somewhat abstract, Nelner said it has a role in modern conservation.

"One of the key concepts is that when we go in to harvest resources, our belief is that we are here to use the resources and minimize the impact," he said. "To put that on a grander scale, we can go beyond the trapper economy and use those types of rules for mining projects and exploration."

Nelner said a criticism of current management practices is where Ottawa-based authorities might grant companies exploration rights and allow for local input only during the regulatory stage, when Nelner said it is too late to have much impact.

"Western thinking is so entrenched, analytical and linear, and all about getting results fast," he said, "whereas traditional knowledge is more intuitive and about clarity of mind and about looking at things over a long period of time...but both native and non-native people can find a commonality and unity in this."

Nelner said traditional knowledge can span the range of resource management activities, from land use and scientific research to law enforcement and monitoring, as well as introducing innovations like reclamation funds that can be used to help restore land affected by industrial use.

Very much still in the planning stages, the regional management resource board is vast in its ambitions. It would be the first of its kind, encompassing the entire Deh Cho land-claim area and also involve education. Nelner said the proposal is also flexible and he can imagine how different elements might be adopted by agencies like Resources, Wildlife and Economic Development and how outside parties might participate. He said he hopes the framework might be ready when land claims are settled.

Nelner said the next step comes in the form of a March 15 open forum in Fort Simpson, where community representatives of the 6,500 Deh Cho Dene and government agents will sit down and discuss the proposals.

"I think the key point is to address the framework and for that we need grassroots people to gain a consensus and gain authority," he said.