Delegates flood Jean Marie River
29th Dene National Assembly off to good start

Dane Gibson
Northern News Services

NNSL (July 09/99) - Where the quiet waters of Jean Marie River meet the mighty Mackenzie, Dene community delegates came by boat, plane and vehicle to participate in the 29th Dene National Assembly.

Jean Marie First Nation is hosting the event that has seen the tiny settlement of 60 swell to more than 140 people in the first day of the four-day gathering.

Jean Marie River First Nation chief Yvonne Norwegian sat at the head table of the assembly as Tuesday's agenda unfolded. She received many thanks from the delegates for preparing her community for their arrival.

"I'm pleased with the way things are going," she said during a break in the proceedings.

"I feel incredibly proud that my community put in the effort to ensure this event would be a success. The committee of organizers are the ones that deserve praise -- they're the ones that made it come true."

During the first day of discussions, many delegates talked of ensuring issues surrounding land claims and unity remain at the forefront during the next three days of meetings.

With a light breeze floating through the arbour, representatives from communities such as Nahanni Butte, Lutsel'Ke, Colville Lake and Wrigley made their voices heard.

"As small First Nations communities, we have rights that need to be represented fairly," Norwegian said.

"For us, the event this week ensures we can connect with other communities. It's also an excellent opportunity for the rest of the leaders to know how Jean Marie River First Nations people live their traditional life on the land along the Mackenzie River."

NWT commissioner Dan Marion was on hand to present former Liidlii Kue First Nation chief Baptiste Cazon and Jean Marie River First Nation elder Sarah Hardisty with an award recognizing the outstanding leadership and dedication they have shown to their people.

A small setback came when Assembly of First Nations National Chief Phil Fontaine missed his flight. He was scheduled to speak, but he arrived in Yellowknife too late to catch his charter to Jean Marie River.

High on the agenda during the proceedings is to make an effort to recognize and support Dene youth. Several youth delegates from various communities were invited to sit at the table as observers.

Etanda Lennie, 18, and Nicole Hardisty, 19, joined the Pehdzeh Ki First Nations delegates. They sat through the entire day's agenda.

"I learned about the treaty process, how voting is done on different subjects and about some of the issues that are important to other communities," Etanda said.

"It's very important we recognize as youth that we are the next generation and that it's up to us to preserve our traditional ways and languages for our children."

"There's so many activities that take us away from our traditions, but I try to remember my Dene heritage," she added.

Nicole said by being at the table she realized it is up to her to learn more about the issues facing the Dene people.

"I think if we can remember our traditional values, it will serve us in the future. If we forget, we may no longer exist. We won't be called the Dene people any more," Nicole said.

"The elders are putting a lot of pressure on the youth to preserve our language and we can't do it on our own. We're going to need help."

A feast was enjoyed Tuesday night and a fashion show and drum dance completed the long day. The assembly is scheduled to wrap up Friday.