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Deh Cho bends the premier's ear

Roxanna Thompson
Northern News Services
Published Thursday, January 29, 2009

LIIDLII KUE/FORT SIMPSON - The quality of services and programs offered in their communities topped the list of issues that Deh Cho leaders recently brought forward to Premier Floyd Roland.

Roland and other members of the territorial government, including Michael Miltenberger, the deputy premier, were in Fort Simpson on Jan 20 and 21 for a series of meetings. Before spending Wednesday with leaders of the regional aboriginal governments from across the territory, Roland met with Deh Cho leaders on Tuesday.

Premier Floyd Roland, left, and Grand Chief Jerry Antoine share a table during a meeting between territorial government representatives and leaders from the Deh Cho on Jan. 20 in Fort Simpson. - photo courtesy of Dehcho First Nations

Deh Cho leaders were eager to have the chance to speak with the premier.

"As soon as I got to the microphone I talked until I got it all off my chest," said Chief Darcy E. Moses of Wrigley.

On behalf of the Pehdzeh Ki First Nation, Moses raised a long list of issues that included the community's water treatment plant, housing and education. The primary issue was ensuring there will be an RCMP officer and a nurse present in the community, said Moses.

The community has always been told that if the RCMP comes a nurse will follow, said Moses. The RCMP is close to establishing a position in Wrigley and Moses said he was looking for assurances that a nurse will also be forthcoming.

Coming from Trout Lake, education was at the top of Chief Dolphus Jumbo's list of priorities.

"We need a regular school," said Jumbo.

Currently, students from kindergarten to Grade 9 share the same classroom at Charles Tetcho school in the community. The school is located in a wing of the band recreation complex.

Trout Lake needs a larger, separate school structure to prepare for an increase in student numbers, he said. There are approximately 12 children between the ages of one and four in the community.

"The population is growing so it's time we start asking for it now," said Jumbo.

In addition to needing assistance for education in the community, more funding needs to be put toward post-secondary education so students can pursue careers, Jumbo said. The next generation will soon be running the First Nations' offices, so they need every opportunity to prepare, he said.

The issues raised by the Wrigley and Trout Lake leadership were just some of the 20 items on the agenda for the meeting. Put together, the Deh Cho leaders sent a message that the territorial government has to consult with communities when they're contemplating taking actions or implementing programs, said Grand Chief Jerry Antoine of the Dehcho First Nations.

The government also has to accommodate the concerns raised by the communities, Antoine said.

"The GNWT must understand that the Deh Cho communities are not stakeholders.

"They're a government in themselves and they need to be dealt with in this way," he said.

The meeting between the territorial and Deh Cho leadership was productive, said Antoine.

"It was a really good dialogue," he said.

The concerns raised at the meeting will be followed up on, said Premier Floyd Roland.

The issues will be directed to the appropriate ministers who will contact the individual chiefs, Roland said. The government is examining the consistency and levels of program in the smaller communities, he said.

Ministers Michael Miltenberger and Robert McLeod are heading the committee on sustainability of rural and remote communities.

The committee is charged with looking at the programs and services, how they're implemented and the concerns surrounding them.

The group will make recommendations back to the cabinet, said Roland.