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Starting to build one house

Leaders want single governments in communities and at regional level

Derek Neary
Northern News Services

Fort Simpson (Apr 26/02) - A Deh Cho Dene government should entail family-based land holdings and a significant role for elders, according to DCFN chief negotiator Chris Reid.

NNSL Photo

Peter Russell, flanked by Acho Dene Koe Chief Judy Kotchea and Fort Simpson Mayor Tom Wilson, acted as the primary facilitator for a governance workshop last week. - Derek Neary/NNSL photo

Speaking at a week-long governance conference last week, Reid said the elders don't want to see Dene people running a municipal-style government.

Conference facilitator Peter Russell replied that one of the challenges of self-government is to retain traditional practices while making room for the new industrial economy and development of land.

The conference examined how a lone regional government might work and how its role would vary from each community's single government. At the local level, an undefined number of seats may be designated for aboriginal leaders and for representatives at large, who could be non-aboriginal. There are a few options for selecting the aboriginal leaders, ranging from elections to having extended families select their representative, to having an elders council assume the responsibility.

Hay River Reserve delegate Roy Fabien said the family is the most important institution in the community.

"In the communities, the families decided how the community was operating," he said.

DCFN assistant negotiator Herb Norwegian said regional and local governments would be something uniquely Deh Cho made.

"We've finally got rid of those shackles, those bonds that have tied us down, by governments, by corporations," said Norwegian.

Fabien suggested that it's crucial for aboriginal people to be managing the land.

"When we lose control of the land, we lose control of ourselves as Dene people ... we want to try to live in the world today with our traditional values," he said. "We love our earth like our mother. We treat her like our mother."

At the same time, living in harmony with non-aboriginals is also essential, he said.

"That's going to be the foundation of our relationship, the peace and good will we're going to have," he said.

Randy Sibbeston, of Fort Simpson, said the emerging generation of aboriginal people is ready to move beyond being dependent on the government.

"I'm not asking for any handouts. I'm not coming here to beg today," said Sibbeston.

"There's a lot of young people here and we're reaching that critical mass where we can take care of ourselves."

Russell is tasked with writing a discussion paper summarizing the workshop.

"I'm sure there is more workshopping to be done," he said. "We've got something we can build on, you can build on."