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Delta self-government back on track

Lynn Lau
Northern News Services

Aklavik (Aug 19/02) - Beaufort Delta self-government negotiations are back on track after concerns about treaty rights delayed the signing of a vital agreement.

Chief Charlie Furlong of the Aklavik Indian Band announced at the Gwich'in Tribal Council in Aklavik Aug. 8 that the Gwich'in chiefs had reached an understanding about a controversial section the agreement-in-principle (AIP).

"We have now come to an understanding with the federal and territorial governments," Furlong said. "We have agreed to a work plan to involve the chiefs in further negotiations."

In October, negotiators for the Gwich'in, Inuvialuit, federal and territorial governments initialled a 107-page document that paves the way for parties to reach a final agreement. But when it came time to sign formally, the Gwich'in chiefs balked.

A public ceremony had already been scheduled for June 23 in Inuvik, with Indian Affairs Minister Robert Nault and Premier Stephen Kakfwi scheduled to appear. The event was called off less than 24 hours before it was to take place -- because of the concerns raised by Furlong.

Speaking for the chiefs of the four Gwich'in communities, Furlong said in June that the band councils hadn't been adequately consulted about how self-government would affect their treaty rights. About 90 per cent of the Gwich'in land claim beneficiaries have Treaty Indian status. Furlong said he needed reassurance that self-government wouldn't infringe on treaty rights.

He admitted he timed his objections to raise publicity for his concerns. "I wanted to get attention and that was the only way to get it."

Bob Simpson, chief negotiator for the aboriginal groups, said the AIP was never meant to cover treaty rights -- a contentious issue that was to be left until the later stages of negotiations. He said nothing in the AIP has changed since Furlong derailed the signing ceremony.

"I've always said I don't have the mandate to represent status Indians," Simpson said. "We just never got the chance to meet with the chiefs before the signing ceremony was scheduled."

Even the president of the Gwich'in Tribal Council, Fred Carmichael, said that the issues Furlong raised did not have to hold up the signing of the AIP. "People certainly have had time to voice their concerns over this," he told the Inuvik Drum in June. "I don't know why, at the eleventh hour, they decided to do this."

Now that Furlong's concerns have been addressed, another AIP signing ceremony is being planned. So far, no tentative dates have been released.

- With files from Terry Halifax.