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Liard leaders outraged

National Post business feature highlights community's social ills

Derek Neary
Northern News Services

Fort Liard (Jan 25/02) - A National Post article published earlier this month is causing a furore in Fort Liard.

Acho Dene Koe Chief Judy Kotchea and honorary chief Harry Deneron are upset over the portrayal of their community in a National Post business supplement.

Written by senior correspondent Mark Anderson, the article "Pipe dream" focuses on the Deh Cho First Nations' stance regarding a potential Mackenzie Valley pipeline.

Specific to Fort Liard, Anderson makes reference to oil and gas development ushering in cocaine use, a greater incidence of domestic violence and an increase in a phenomenon known as "marriage out," when an aboriginal woman marries a non-aboriginal man, in this case white, gas-field workers.

Anderson also quotes DCFN assistant negotiator Herb Norwegian as saying the Acho Dene Koe have bulldozed trappers' cabins and disrupted their traditional lifestyle.

"As you know, we are the only development area in the whole Deh Cho, and there isn't anything in that article that is positive ... it paints a very bleak picture for the world to see," Kotchea said.

She denied that any cabins were bulldozed and refuted most of the other assertions as well.

Deneron, who noted that DCFN representatives had a great deal of input in the story's content, said he has received numerous calls from friends and associates in southern Canada who are not happy about the article.

Looking at every angle

All impacts of development in Fort Liard are being studied in the community's own oil and gas review, Deneron said.

"It (the review) will let the people know what we did wrong and what we did right," he said. "Let's face it, every time young people get money in their pockets, God knows what they do. But I've talked to the RCMP, the health department ... Liard's problem is no worse than any other place."

Other than the information from Norwegian, Anderson said he was told of Fort Liard's social ills by "four or five" other sources, including chiefs, elders and DCFN administrators.

In an interview last Friday, he said he feels his depiction of Fort Liard was balanced, as he mentioned that the community is creating many jobs and abundant wealth.

"At the same time, there may be some payback on that in terms of social problems," said Anderson, who spent nine days in Deh Cho last September.

He added that he made several attempts over a few weeks to reach Kotchea and Deneron for comment, but neither returned his calls.

"I'm not sure that they can dispute the facts or the information in the article," Anderson said. "I think, in hindsight, they would have preferred to see their voice come out and explain their position more."

Overall, the article was well received by others. Deh Cho First Nations Grand Chief Michael Nadli, for example, called it "fairly balanced" and "fairly representative of what we're trying to do."