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Don't initial Dogrib deal, Akaitcho tells MLAs

Jorge Barrera
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Aug 23/02) - The territorial government is smack in the middle of an increasingly bitter land dispute between two First Nations.

In a staged media event at the Great Hall of the territorial Legislature, Akaitcho Nation Treaty 8 publicly challenged the territorial government not to initial the Dogrib Nation Treaty 11 land-claim agreement, which they say takes one-third of their Treaty 8 land.

NNSL photo

Antoine Michel, trapper from Lutsel K'e, talks about the Dogrib claim land that he and his family have trapped on for years. Michel was speaking during a media event staged by Akaitcho Treaty 8 Nation to challenge the territorial government not to initial the Dogrib land-claim final agreement. - Merle Robillard/NNSL photo

An initialling ceremony is scheduled for Sept. 4 in Wha Ti, a Dogrib community north of Yellowknife.

Don Balsillie, chief negotiator with Akaitcho, said if the government initials the agreement it will create economic and social uncertainty in the mineral rich region.

Balsillie said Akaitcho would fight any development on the contested land that goes ahead without their consultation.

"People go to war over land in other countries," said Balsillie in a separate interview. "Maybe in 50 years...it will create another Gaza strip."

During the event, Akaitcho spread out a large map of the contested land on the floor criss-crossed with brown, red and black lines showing Akaitcho traditional sites and trails.

Akaitcho communities include Ndilo, Dettah, Lutsel K'e and Deninu Ku'e.

Premier Stephen Kakfwi and Deputy Premier Jim Antoine sat through the event. Antoine said the government has not yet decided whether to initial the agreement.

The Akaitcho and neighbouring Dogrib Nation have been embroiled in a decade long land dispute.

The Dogrib have claimed as part of their traditional use area roughly 230,000 square kilometres of land Akaitcho claims is theirs.

The huge swath of land extends from Boundary Creek to Artillery Lake all the way into the barren lands, covering the operating Ekati Diamond mine and the under construction diamond mines of Diavik and De Beers.

The Dogrib are nearing the final stage of implementing their hybrid self-government and land claim agreement.

The initialling of the agreement simply means it is turned over by the negotiators to the politicians from the three parties -- federal, territorial and First Nation -- to accept or change.

The Dogrib agreement gives the First Nation certain self-government powers and full jurisdiction over selected chunks of land and limited jurisdiction over traditional use lands.

But Akaitcho has nothing to fear, said John B. Zoe, Dogrib chief negotiator.

"It's a huge misunderstanding," said Zoe. "It's not our land."

Zoe said the Dogrib have total jurisdiction over land around their four communities of Rae, Wha Ti, Gameti and Wekweti. This includes sub-surface and surface rights.

But the land Akaitcho claims is being taken by the Dogrib is only part of the Dogrib traditional use area and they must be consulted on anything that affects those rights.

It's something Akaitcho can do over top of the same land, said Zoe.

"You can have a blanket over a blanket and it gets warmer," said Zoe.

Akaitcho launched federal court action this past spring to stop the Dogrib claim.

Zoe said the Dogrib will not negotiate with Akaitcho as long as the issue is before the courts. Akaitcho claims undisputed treaty rights over all their lands.