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Deh Cho FN say don't initial

Nathan VanderKlippe
Northern News Services

Fort Simpson (Sep 02/02) - The Deh Cho First Nations have joined with the Akaitcho in calling for governments not to initial the Dogrib final agreement.

In a press release issued last Thursday, Deh Cho leaders argue that the boundaries in a draft copy of the agreement are different from boundaries the two First Nations agreed to in June.

"We need to resolve this before initialling," said Chris Reid, chief negotiator for the Deh Cho. "We're not blaming anybody, not accusing anybody of bad faith. We're saying this should have been resolved a long time ago."

Plans call for negotiators from the NWT, the government of Canada and the Dogrib to initial the final agreement this Wednesday. Final signing and ratification won't happen until Christmas at the earliest.

The Deh Cho dispute revolves around a boundary line linked to the Edehzhie protected area on the Horn Plateau. In negotiations between Deh Cho Grand Chief Michael Nadli and Dogrib Grand Chief Joe Rabesco this June, the Deh Cho said the agreement was to run a boundary line parallel with the Edehzhie area.

The Dogrib final agreement makes written reference to a boundary, but five kilometres south of the Edehzhie.

"We're very, very close," said Reid. "We're five kilometres apart."

Stanley Sanguez, the Deh Cho's acting grand chief, said he is disappointed that the Deh Cho had been kept out of the loop on negotiations. "We don't feel it's right," he said.

Nadli has chartered a plane for Wha Ti on Sept. 4. But Reid said he will only fly to the initialling ceremony if the boundary dispute is resolved beforehand.

Meanwhile, chief negotiators from all of the parties are counting on the initialling to take place, Deh Cho protests notwithstanding.

The cabinet of the GNWT will meet Sept. 3 to make a final determination on whether to initial the deal, but territorial negotiator Gary Black said he is expecting to fly to Wha Ti.

Still time for changes

Chief federal negotiator Jean-Yves Assiniwi said the only way he will not attend is if the government of Canada fires him.

Assiniwi expressed little concern about the Deh Cho grievances.

"If we missed something or made some mistake (in the final agreement), we've set aside a period of about three months (after the initialling), which would allow us to hear what people have to say," he said. "But until it's initialled we can't do that."

He also said he is "certain" that some of the protests against the agreement are being made on faulty assessments of what is actually in the document. "A number of assumptions are being made which will prove to be unsupported."

Reid said waiting until after the initialling is "a little hard to swallow for the Deh Cho. They've been trying for years to resolve this. As soon as initialling happens, a lot of the pressure (to resolve boundary issues) will be off."

Meanwhile, the Akaitcho have voiced their support of the Deh Cho complaints.

"Now with the Deh Cho saying there's some major problems, the governments are really going to have to look seriously at what's going on," said Sharon Venne, assistant chief negotiator for the Akaitcho.

Akaitcho representatives, who are still hoping the courts will put a choke-hold on the Dogrib final agreement, will not be at the signing on Wednesday. "If there was a boundary agreement in place, we would have celebrated with them," said Chief Richard Edjericon.