Dene leaders want honesty
Leaders wary on resource transfer issues

Dane Gibson
Northern News Services

NNSL (May 10/99) - Dene leaders say presenting a united aboriginal front to the federal government is the only way they'll listen.

A Dene leadership meeting was held in Yellowknife, May 3-7. It was a chance for Dene community leaders to discuss difficult issues surrounding self-government, intergovernmental relations and who should have control of resources.

Chief of Salt River First Nations, Nora Beaver, challenged GNWT Finance Minister Charles Dent, Resource, Wildlife, and Economic Development Minister Stephen Kakfwi, and NWT Premier Jim Antoine on trust issues.

"In your proposed intergovernmental forum, you talk of a partnership with the federal government but they screwed us, they cheated us and they lied to us," Beaver said.

"What I want to know is, if you're going to be honest with us? Oil, gas and minerals are owned by Canada -- which is why we're at the negotiating table. It's true we need more control of the resources generated from our land, but we need that to be supported with honesty."

Antoine said the first thing to remember is that now is a time of tremendous change.

"What we are facing are major issues. Division changed the way government was done in the North. At the same time, we are negotiating land claims and self-government arrangements, which also means change," Antoine said.

"Social programs are putting pressures on the money we have. Basically, we're looking at building partnerships so we can deal with issues in the future and we need to have a working relationship to do that."

Antoine agreed there's a real concern in the communities over the fact that the federal government has control of Northern resources, and often signs off on projects without adequately consulting with the people whose lands are affected by the decisions they make.

"The GNWT's jurisdiction includes municipal lands. Anything outside of that is controlled by the federal government. It's a complicated political situation we find ourselves in," Antoine said.

Behdzi Ahda Chief Richard Kochon questioned why the federal government didn't have a representative at the table.

"If we want self-government, we can't let somebody else make that government for us," Kochon said.

"It seems like the federal government is trying to take all the resources out (of the North) before anything is settled and I think we should put a stop to this. The federal government should be at these meetings."

Kakfwi agreed that including the federal government in meetings throughout the year is essential to resolving the many issues raised by the leaders.

"As I understand it, the federal government gives the GNWT money to run programs and services. Your view is, it's designated treaty money but it isn't," Kakfwi said.

"One of the issues is if (federal transfer money) isn't designated treaty money, is there a process to make that happen? If it is to be done, we need to discuss how to go about it."

He said by having the Dene communities and the territorial government come together on important issues, the federal government will have to follow.

"We're here because we're trying to overcome this mistrust and animosity so we can make things better for our communities," Kakfwi said.

"It's my view that there are still many things that aren't clear, but it's important to make sure these discussions continue with the federal government sitting at the table."

Things also got interesting when premier Antoine announced that both sides of the Friends of Democracy court battle will receive $50,000 for their court costs. If an appeal of the original court ruling goes through, the GNWT will cough up another $50,000 for each side.

Friends vice-president, Bob MacQuarrie, said the concession will help, but it's not enough.

"What (Antoine) essentially said is for the first court case, which cost both sides a lot of money, the territory would give us $50,000 each, as a contribution towards our costs," MacQuarrie said.

"They also said now that the aboriginal groups have decided to appeal, they would provide an additional $50,000 to each side."

He said the cost of an appeal will cost the volunteer driven Friends of Democracy much more than $50,000.

"We haven't yet identified where the money will be coming from to cover our costs for the appeal. That said, I personally feel one way or another, we will proceed."