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Akaitcho land withdrawal imminent

Sydney Selvon
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Dec 23/05) - An interim land withdrawal is expected to be announced soon by the Akaitcho First Nations as they work toward a land claim agreement.

This isn't going to affect companies with existing interests in land in Akaitcho territories, said James Lawrance, director of Aboriginal and Territorial Relations, from the Indian and Northern Affairs Canada office in Yellowknife.

However, on the lands withdrawn, there will be no new sales, leases or mineral rights granted until a final agreement is reached, said Lawrance.

"The parties are aiming to reach an agreement early in the New Year, but there is no fixed date."

Akaitcho First Nations will get control over some withdrawn land in the land claim agreement.

Negotiations are continuing despite a Federal Court lawsuit filed by the First Nations.

"Canada doesn't have a policy that strictly says no negotiations when there is litigation. Canada takes each case on a case by case basis and makes its decision," he said.

The statement of claim was filed Oct. 14 and asks the court to cancel permits issued to Strongbow Exploration on two claims in the South Slave district, one covering 46,742 acres, the other 47,107 acres.

Akaitcho First Nations taking part in the suit include all Lutsel K'e Dene First Nation, Deninu Kue First Nation in Fort Resolution, and Yellowknives Dene in Ndilo and Dettah.

Ndilo chief Fred Sangris, while refusing to elaborate, said recent news reports on the process are "only partially accurate" and accused the media of "not checking the facts." His office did not respond to calls for details on the next Akaitcho move.

Ken Armstrong, president of Strongbow Exploration, said the Akaitcho were refused a request for a ministerial review of the disputed permits. Then they successfully petitioned the Federal Court for a judicial review.

"We've essentially indicated we're not going to put a spade in it because we can't afford to spend money on lawyers and so on," said Armstrong.

"I think it's in everybody's interest to get the land claim completed and settled and then help to bring certainty to the NWT in terms of mineral tenure, where companies can and cannot go."

Mining industry representatives have offered to help with the land selection process. Lou Covello, president of the NWT and Nunavut Chamber of Mines, vice-president Trevor Teed, and general manager Mike Vaydik met with federal land claim negotiators early this month.

"If the Akaitcho want some advice as to what the mineral potential is on that particular block of land, we would be prepared to sit down with them and just go with the technical information that would be relevant," Covello said.

Premier Joe Handley said he believes the process is moving too slowly.

He expects the matter to be resolved "within the next couple of years," but added, "I'm less and less optimistic we'll be able to do that."