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Negotiation session being held in Ottawa

Roxanna Thompson
Northern News Services
Published Thursday, April 24, 2008

DEH CHO - Members of the Dehcho First Nations' negotiating team and Chief Jerry Antoine are in Ottawa this week for talks with the federal government.

The meetings are part of the ongoing negotiations between the two groups. This is the first negotiating session to take place in Ottawa in a number of years, said George Erasmus, the chief negotiator for the Dehcho.

Jurisdiction is expected to be a main focus of discussion between the two parties.

Previously areas of jurisdiction have been grouped under broad headings but haven't included many specific details. Negotiations have reached a point where each area of jurisdiction and the heads of power are being defined, said Erasmus.

"We're starting to get very specific," he said.

The Dehcho First Nations (DFN) had been waiting for proposals on jurisdiction from both the government of the Northwest Territories and the federal government, Erasmus said. The GNWT has recently started to put forward their positions and Canada was expected to do the same during the Ottawa sessions, he said earlier this month.

One area where negotiations will have to take place is the Dehcho Resource Management Authority.

The DFN views the authority as an agency that will be in charge of all land use and water permits as well as all planning and development in the Deh Cho. DFN wants a stand-alone institution that will work in harmony with the current Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act (MVRMA) if a project overlaps the Deh Cho's borders, said Erasmus.

At the last negotiating session Canada stated they'd agree to the authority but only if it falls under the MVRMA as more of an advisory board, he said.

"We have some serious work to do there," said Erasmus.

Approximately six months ago the sessions changed. Up to that point the GNWT and Canada were only asking questions, said Erasmus. The two governments are now giving their positions on certain issues.

"We're bringing up items virtually every time now," he said.

The latest session will give DFN's negotiators more information to share with the membership.

The Dehcho First Nations has been conducting a series of community information sessions about the negotiations. So far this month sessions have been held in Kakisa, Fort Providence, Jean Marie River and Fort Simpson. Information sessions in the remaining communities are expected to take place before the end of the month, said Erasmus.

Topics at the sessions include all the current negotiation agenda items such as the Nahanni National Park Reserve expansion, the Dehcho Land Use Plan, royalties and governance as well as other topics.

"The main thing we're working towards is informing the people," said Chief Jerry Antoine.

"It's really crucial people out there know what is going on."

The membership needs to listen to what's being discussed during the negotiations so they can see if it fits into their goals and aspirations for the DFN, he said. The information is also important so people will be informed before entering the Kakisa assembly, said Antoine.

"People are interested in the information. They want to be involved," he said.

So far some communities have requested additional sessions because of low turnout, said Erasmus. Other communities are asking for workshops to be held about the negotiations.

To get information out about the negotiations the DFN also had plans to publish four newsletters between now and the end of June.

"We're hoping by June we'll have really well informed leaders and communities," said Erasmus.