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Boundary battle

Dogrib, Akaitcho square off over territorial claims

Jorge Barrera
Northern News Services

Ndilo (Nov 26/01) - Furious last-minute negotiations between two First Nations groups embroiled in a decade-long boundary dispute put the brakes on court action and saved the Dene Nation from a major schism last week.

During the Dene leadership assembly, the Akaitcho Treaty 8 Nation and the Dogrib Treaty 11 Nation pledged to give talks one more try after a long Thursday of sometimes bitter sparring.

Both Nations claim rights to the same piece of territory.

Akaitcho Treaty 8 Lutsel K'e Chief Archie Catholique said his Nation would take back a controversial resolution that threatened to freeze chances of a Dogrib final agreement without a boundary settlement between both sides.

"If they want to work together that's what we asked for," said Catholique at the assembly table. "We want do things right."

Earlier in the day Akaitcho threatened court action against the Dogrib who they accused of stalling on the issue.

Around noon, Akaitcho Ndilo Chief Peter Liske said they planned to file a statement of claim in Federal Court this week.

"We have to protect our interests," said Liske moments before the Akaitcho tabled the controversial resolution.

Later that evening the Dogrib and Akaitcho pledged to work anew. Don Balsillie, chief negotiator with Treaty 8, said they would wait and see how this round of talks turns out and hold off on court action.

And a letter proved to be the turning point.

After walking out during a heated exchange over the Akaitcho resolution, Grand Chief Joe Rabesca returned and said his lawyers and negotiators could work with the issues outlined in a letter dated Nov 16.

The Akaitcho fear they will lose their land under the Dogrib final agreement. The settlement area would give the Dogrib certain rights to all Ndilo and Dettah lands and 40 per cent of Lutsel K'e lands.

The disputed area stretches north of Great Slave Lake to the Nunavut boundary. The Akaitcho want a border through the area defining each nation's territory and rights but the Dogrib don't.

The Dogrib would not own the disputed area, but they could exert certain land-use and hunting rights over it upon a final land claim agreement.

They claimed the Dogrib were forcing them to turn to the courts after repeatedly stalling negotiations.

The current dispute stretches back to the comprehensive Metis-Dene claim in 1990. After that failure, each group set out to settle its own claim.

Both sides base their claim to the land on maps and deals made in the early 20th Century.

Before he walked out, Rabesca said the Dene leadership assembly is not the forum for negotiation. "I don't want other chiefs to decide what happens in my country," said Rabesca. "We're this close to a final agreement," he said holding his thumb and index finger centimetres apart. "We are going to leave."

Assembly chair Francois Paulette tried in vain to salvage the situation, urging the Dogrib to listen to the Akaitcho chiefs and the rest of the leadership. Rabesca listened for awhile but suddenly interrupted Yellowknives Dettah Chief Richard Edjericon and walked out.

"They don't show respect," said a frustrated Edjericon who took off his glasses and rubbed his forehead.

The Akaitcho delegation walked out on Wednesday claiming the assembly chairs vetoed their elder's right to speak to the boundary issue.