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Elder power outage?

Derek Neary
Northern News Services

Fort Simpson (Dec 09/05) - There was a time when Leo Norwegian felt his words and those of his fellow elders were being heeded. Not any more.

NNSL Photo/graphic

Leo Norwegian: Elders' words being drowned out on pipeline matters

As evidence, Norwegian, a frequent spokesperson for the elders, referred to an assembly held in Hay River last fall.

The elders' council conceived a verbal motion giving conditional support to the Mackenzie Valley natural gas pipeline. Having witnessed the installation of the Interprovincial oil pipeline in the 1980s, but having realized minimal local benefits, Norwegian said the elders don't want to see that mistake repeated.

As long as the pipeline proponents are willing to respect traditional knowledge, "let's do the right thing to make us happy and make industry happy," he said.

He added that he believes future generations stand to benefit from the pipeline.

"I don't want them to say, 'Those stupid old fools they made a mistake,'" he said.

However, a strong verbal motion from elders at the 2004 fall assembly was "watered down so it doesn't mean anything" when it was written, he contended.

"It shouldn't be like that," he said. "Somebody's not listening to us. Somebody's taking a shortcut to what we say... our voice is not heard by the public any more."

Dehcho First Nations Grand Chief Herb Norwegian, who is also Leo's nephew, said Leo has always been a supporter of the pipeline whereas the other elders are not. Leo has worked for Mackenzie Gas Project as a traditional knowledge advisor, the Grand Chief noted.

"If he talks like that it's just him," said Herb Norwegian. "He's putting up a pretty bad picture on our negotiations here... his chain needs to be yanked on, especially on the Mackenzie Gas (pipeline) because we're right down to the short and curlies right now. This is the time when we need people standing firm together here."

Herb Norwegian also pointed out that elders aren't supposed to make decisions. Instead they are supposed to make recommendations to the aboriginal leadership.

Leo Norwegian said things were different from 1993-96, when the Dehcho Declaration was drafted. The elders wielded greater influence back then, he argued.

Although he feels things have gone awry, he said he won't walk away from the Dehcho Process.

"I'm not going to give up. Somebody's got to get out there and tell them... we should get back on track," he said.