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Self-government talks miss Gwich'in

Jason Unrau
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Dec 02/05) - Reaching a regional self-government agreement will be "difficult" without Gwich'in participation, say negotiators.

Members of the Beaufort Delta Regional Council - the template for what will eventually become the region's governing authority - met in Inuvik this week.

However, without a final self-government agreement the council has little power to change current policy or deliver government services in the Delta.

"Eventually the goal is for the (Beaufort Delta Regional) council to control and direct funding," said Bob Simpson, chief negotiator for Beaufort Delta self-government, who agreed that at the moment the BDRC is effectively a lobby group.

As Simpson declined to comment on when the final agreement would be inked, with the Gwich'in opting out of formal participation in the BDRC, preferring to put their resources toward building community constitutions, it is unlikely that day will be anytime soon.

Ed Dillon, chair of the Tuktoyaktuk Community Corp., says without the Gwich'in at the table, "That makes it difficult.

"It's the old federal approach of divide and conquer," he added.

Fort McPherson mayor Phillip Blake was the sole Gwich'in representative at the meeting, serving as council co-chair with Inuvialuit Regional Corp. Chair and CEO Nellie Cournoyea.

When Blake was asked his thoughts on the lack of Gwich'in participation, he declined to comment.

"Best to go straight to the horse's mouth for that," he said.

Calls to the Gwich'in Tribal Council were not returned as of press time.

As for the new money earmarked for the Territories and more importantly, what will end up in this region, Dillon was not short on an appropriate metaphor.

"It's like playing bingo to afford to keep playing bingo," he said. "Over the past five years our community has had $969,000 in funding clawed back by the GNWT so in some ways this new money will make up for that."

While the region is set to receive a certain percentage of money from the $35 million in Northern Strategy dollars, Municipal and Community Affairs' $37.5 million gas-tax rebate and, if the pipeline is built, a sizeable chunk of $500 million in socio-economic impact money.

According to the current breakdown of funds from that pot of money, the Inuvialuit will receive 30 per cent over 10 years while the Gwich'in is poised to receive 16.4 per cent.

On Tuesday, Premier Joe Handley, flanked by a several ministers, addressed the council, promising the GNWT would not meddle in the council's determination of where to spend its portion of socio-economic dollars.

"It is going to be in your hands and we would not have a controlling interest," he said.

The plan is to have a legal body "independent of the (territorial) government," but with a GNWT representative to approve proposed projects.

"That money is not to be used for existing government programs," Handley added.