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    NNSL Photo/Graphic

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    Tlicho gather in Whati

    John Curran
    Northern News Services
    Published Monday, August 11, 2008

    WHATI/LAC LA MARTRE - Tlicho citizens from around the region and beyond descended on Whati last week for the fourth Annual Tlicho Gathering.

    It was the first time in several years the event, which rotates among the four Tlicho settlements, has been held in the community of roughly 500 on the shores of Lac La Martre.

    NNSL Photo/Graphic

    Event co-ordinator Henry Zoe, left, and Tlicho Grand Chief George Mackenzie agree they were happy with the turnout for the fourth Annual Tlicho Gathering, last week in Whati. - John Curran/NNSL photo

    "It's an honour for Whati to host everyone for the gathering," said Whati Chief Charlie Jim Nitsiza.

    The gathering is intended to give citizens a public forum to openly question their leaders on all matters related to the operation of the Tlicho Government and its subsidiary firms and organizations.

    "People can speak their mind," Nitsiza said during his official welcoming remarks. "But we may not have time to followup on it right away."

    With an estimated 1,000 people turning out for the Aug. 5-8 festivities, Whati is thought to have established an attendance record of sorts, according to event co-ordinator Henry Zoe.

    "I think we've got more than 450 in from Behchoko and I don't think there are many people left in Gameti or Wekweeti who didn't come - we've even got some special guests here from Tulita and Deline," he said. "I think this is the biggest gathering we've ever had in one of the three smaller communities."

    He said it took a massive team effort to bring everything together, but everyone worked hard and got the job done in time.

    "It takes a lot of energy and resources to gather this many people together," said Tlicho Grand Chief George Mackenzie. "We're going to want to see some positives come out of the week."

    He said the Tlicho Government, which officially came into force three years ago with the comprehensive land claim and self-government deal signed by the First Nation and the federal government, is not without its growing pains.

    "Right now we're struggling a bit with the territorial government bureaucrats," he said. "They don't seem to understand self-government and that we still need their support in some areas."

    A rift also developed last year over who had the authority to speak and make commitments on behalf of the Tlicho Government as a whole, which divided the five chiefs as well as other members of the Tlicho Assembly. It is still a nagging thorn yet to be plucked from the young government's upper echelon.

    "We're now asking Ottawa for funds for our legal appeal," said Behchoko Chief Leon Lafferty, who has been opposite Mackenzie throughout the dispute.

    Internal squabbling aside, this year was also important because representatives have just one year left on their four-year terms and that had people looking for answers before returning to the polls in 2009.

    "A lot of people are interested in what they've accomplished so far," said Monfwi MLA and Tlicho citizen Jackson Lafferty. "Some people are questioning the level of transparency that currently exists."

    As part of the gathering, financial reports - delivered to every household in the Tlicho region ahead of the gathering - were reviewed and certified by the First Nation's auditors PricewaterhouseCoopers. It indicates the Tlicho Government is on a solid financial footing with cash and other assets totalling more than $77 million.

    Its only liability of note is the slightly more than $21 million remaining on the loan the Tlicho received from Ottawa against future land claim payments through the federal Native Claims Loan Agreement policy.

    "The loan from the federal government is on track to be repaid in full over the next four years," said Jeff Baker, a representative of the auditing firm.

    When the Tlicho Agreement came into effect, the First Nation was slated to receive approximately $90 million spread over 15 years, explained John B. Zoe, Tlicho Government executive officer.

    "After the loan is repaid, the really big payments start in 2012 when we'll get about $10.1 million," he said. "We also earn interest on the future payments ... so the total claim will end up being worth $152 million - over the 15 years we end up earning more than $60 million in interest."