Finding their place
Self-government a challenge for municipalities

Derek Neary
Northern News Services

Fort Simpson ( May 29/00) - Will the role of municipalities change as self-government negotiations progress and where will the money come from to transfer programs and services?

Those were two of the primary questions delegates at the NWT Association of Municipalities (NWTAM) AGM in Fort Simpson were asking during a session on self-government Friday afternoon.

Tulita mayor Bertha Lennie said she was interested in organizing a self-government workshop in her community but was told by a local resident -- even though there are no self-government talks in the community or region -- that the hamlet council was going to be dissolved and no longer had any authority.

"I was told that it was none of my business, that I shouldn't be involved in it," said Lennie, who added she feels municipal councils are often the most committed, reliable, accountable organizations in communities.

James Lawrence, special advisor to the deputy minister of aboriginal affairs, replied, "People in the communities have to work together to set their objectives."

He noted that through the Dogrib agreement-in-principle, the hamlets have not been dissolved, but are to combined with the band councils.

"That's (also) the approach being taken in the Beaufort-Delta, that's the approach being taken in Deline," said Lawrence.

Other self-government groups may establish a variant of that, he suggested.

"You see different approaches being taken in different communities and different regions. That's only logical, of course," he said, adding there is still a need for effective territorial government to deal with territorial-wide issues and to continue to deliver certain programs and services.

"Self government is an unknown quantity. It's new ground ... but we're trying to build on (existing) structures."

Deh Cho grand chief Michael Nadli, fresh from self-government negotiations in Yellowknife with the GNWT and the federal government, said municipalities are best advised to "be supportive and develop a working relationship," with self-government groups. Municipalities can assist with capacity building for future development and providing services, he suggested.

"At some point, we all have to live together in the community," said Nadli, who referred to the combined council alliance in Fort Providence among the Dene, Metis and the hamlet as an exemplary concept.

Richard Gordon, mayor of Aklavik, said there is a great deal of concern in his community over cutbacks to programs.

"We're (in the Beaufort Delta) negotiating to take on programs, but where's the money going to come from?" he asked.

Jim Antoine, Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and MACA, acknowledged that the federal government isn't willing to spend more money on transfers to self-government groups. Yet whenever another administration is set-up, there are invariably additional start-up and transitional costs.

"I think you have every right to be concerned about where the dollars are going to come from because we are," Antoine said.

One avenue to more funding, he suggested once more, is for everyone in the North to work together to gain control of resources, oil and gas, diamonds.

In the past the North has been too fragmented, he said.

Lawrence added that claimant groups might consider using some of their money from settled claims for strategic investment in programs and services.

As well, he said, "the regions shouldn't have to feel compelled to take everything on," but should prioritize the programs and services they want first