Gwich'in/Inuvialuit nearing self-government agreement
Inuvik ( May 26/00) - Public government is changing in the North, and the Inuvialuit and Gwich'in are on the cutting edge.
The two First Nations are nearing a self-government agreement in principle with Canada and the NWT.
The Gwich'in/Inuvialuit negotiations were run in-tandem because of the mixed populations here, said Simpson. As well, he said the system of government will also be a unique mix in the region.
"We have combined aboriginal and public government," Simpson said. "Not only do we have two separate aboriginal groups here, but we also have included all the residents. That's why it took so long -- we had to have a balance between charter rights and inherent rights."
While the Inuvialuit settled their land claim in 1984, and the Gwich'in settled in 1992, it took some time until negotiations were able to begin.
"In 1993, the two groups got together and said, 'Well we've got two mixed communities with Inuvik and Aklavik. It would be very difficult to implement any self-government agreement unless we work together,'" Simpson said. "So they submitted a joint proposal to the federal government in 1993.
"Since about '95 or '96 we've been negotiating fairly steady."
Simpson said the teams have been concentrating on two major areas: the structure of governance and delivery of social programs. He said things were going fairly smooth until last year, when negotiations hit a "bump in the road" with the new system of government.
Following six months of talks, agreement was reached on the proposed model of government.
"Here in Inuvik, for instance, we'll have a chairperson, we call him a chief councillor; we call him mayor now," Simpson explained. "This position would be elected by all residents."
As well, the new government will consist of six or more likely, eight councillors -- 50 per cent would be at "at large councillors," who all residents could vote for. The other 50 per cent would be split between Gwich'in and Inuvialuit councillors voted for only by their respective groups.
Simpson said there was some debate over the "lop-sided" advantage to band members' voting power, but he said the advantage is minimal.
"Everybody will get the same number of votes, it's just that the Inuvialuit and Gwich'in can spread their votes further," he said.
Negotiators have agreed to the majority of other outstanding policy issues, he said.
"We've also wrapped up most of the social envelope subjects -- most of education is done. Health is done. We are still working on child and family services."
The other major areas of negotiations will be the administration of justice and finances.
"We hope to have those issues finalized by this fall," he said.
"The hardest part will be dealing with the financial issues; that will probably take another couple years," he said.
Simpson says the new government will likely take "a discrete chunk" out of block funding through the new system.
"The territorial government will still have a very important role in setting standards," he said. "Our school curriculum for instance."
Unlike British Columbia's Niisga agreement, which was negotiated along with their land claim, Simpson says nothing here is carved in stone and the Gwich'in/Inuvialuit self-government agreement will remain flexible to change.
"You don't know what's going to happen in 50 years and government should generally change to suit the circumstances of the people they serve," he said.