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No consultations yet on Dogrib deal

Final agreement open-ended and extremely complex

Nathan VanderKlippe
Northern News Services

Lac La Martre (Sep 30/02) - Aboriginal groups in the territory are scrambling to come up with a response to the Dogrib final agreement, even as new details about the 160-page document begin to emerge.

Negotiating teams are currently in a holding pattern on the agreement, which was initialled for the first time in Wha Ti on Sept. 4. This is being billed as an "information period" in which other groups can step forward to voice their concerns about the agreement.

A final initialling is planned for late in the year.

However, no one has stepped forward yet to comment and neither the Akaitcho nor the Deh Cho -- two of the most prominent critics of the Dogrib agreement -- have been able to formulate a response to the document. The agreement is so complex that even the federal negotiator, Jean-Yves Assiniwi, joked that he will have difficulty explaining it six months after its signing.

Akaitcho negotiators will today present a sizeable package of criticisms for review by their chiefs.

What negotiators made clear in a recent press briefing is that the document has been specifically designed to be open-ended.

The agreement establishes an enormous Wekeezhii area, over which Dogrib will have land, water and environmental management rights. That area extends to Great Bear Lake in the north and west, and Contwoyto Lake and the east arm of Great Slave Lake in the west and will be governed by a land and water board and a non-renewable resources board.

Access to the land will be open to the public for recreational purposes. Companies with claims that have advanced beyond the exploration stage will not see their work affected.

The agreement also creates a 39,000 square kilometre swatch of Tlicho land around Wekweti, Rae Lakes, Wha Ti and Rae where Dogrib will have exclusive hunting and trapping rights.

The issue is complicated, however, by competing claims to most of the Wekeezhii land. According to Assiniwi, only a quarter of the Wekeezhii area is not currently disputed.

So the Dogrib final agreement includes provisions for overlap agreements and multiple management boards over the Wekeezhii land, and sets parameters for conflict mechanisms -- most of which involve handing the decision over to either the federal or territorial government.

The agreement is deliberately open-ended to avoid having to amend the agreement on the occasion of other land claims. But as such, it could set the stage for decades of arguments between different sides. For example, any overlap agreements would have to be signed by the Dogrib -- who other groups have accused of being unwilling to co-operate in previous negotiations.

"The Deh Cho have never been in favour of multiple management boards, even within the Deh Cho," said Deh Cho negotiator Chris Reid.

Arguing that all claims should have been settled before the Dogrib agreement is "cute" and "great," said Assiniwi.

"But what if you can't get two people in the same room? We came up with a solution that is very different than what you have in the Sahtu and Gwich'in ... In this case we're saying, people are claiming that they co-exist over the same piece of land. Let's see that co-existence work.

"Nothing of this agreement takes anything away from the Yellowknives. Nothing in this agreement takes anything away from the Deh Cho ... The only land they can't get is the lands which are selected by the Dogribs, which are the Tlicho lands. Everything else, there is nothing which is exclusive in the agreement."

So far, negotiations have cost the Dogrib over $10 million. The final agreement includes a provision for the payment of $90 million by the federal government over 15 years after ratification. That money will be used to establish a trust fund and repay debts incurred during negotiations.