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Dene gather in Fort Providence

Roxanna Thompson
Northern News Services
Published Monday, July 18, 2011

DEH GAH GOT'IE KOE/FORT PROVIDENCE - Devolution and the protection of land and water were among the key issues during the Dene National Assembly.

The 41st annual assembly met in Fort Providence from July 12 to 14. The issue of devolution came up on the first day. Premier Floyd Roland spoke about devolution while addressing the assembly.

Dene National Chief Bill Erasmus gave a presentation on the historical background of devolution.

Devolution is the most important issue facing the assembly, said Erasmus during the second day of the event.

"It's the future of the North," he added.

The Dene Nation has a problem with the concept of devolution as well as the way the territorial government went about signing a devolution agreement-in-principle. Even the term devolution is inappropriate because it suggests the federal government has the underlying title for the lands and resources in the territory, said Erasmus.

It's the Dene who have the underlying title and if it was to devolve from anyone it would be us, he said.

"The agreement-in-principle as it's signed is really designed to fail," said Erasmus.

As the comments of the chiefs and delegates at the assembly reinforced, the vast majority of the communities in the territory aren't in agreement with devolution, he said. Part of the Dene Nation's plan to address the issue will be to make sure MLAs who are elected in the fall share the nation's views on devolution, and are willing to work on the issue, said Erasmus.

While devolution featured large at the assembly, environmental issues surrounding different aspects of the protection of land and water were also discussed. The assembly heard presentations on barr-enland caribou management, the Site C dam on the Peace River, proposed pipelines by Enbridge Pipelines Inc. and TransCanada, the NWT Water Strategy and the role of the National Energy Board in relation to oil spills. The level of concern on these issues was made evident through the resolutions that the assembly passed.

The assembly passed a resolution to show solidarity with those opposing Enbridge's proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline from the Alberta oil sands to the coast of British Columbia. There was also a resolution to oppose TransCanada's Keystone Pipeline to Texas.

Enbridge's recent spill near Willow River was also widely discussed at the assembly. The assembly passed a motion calling for Enbridge to reach a comprehensive agreement with affected Dene along the Norman Wells line as well as a resolution to explore legal action against Enbridge because of the spill. A number of other resolutions were also related to environmental topics.

Although the primary purpose of the assembly is for the Dene leadership to gather and discuss issues, it's also much more than that, Erasmus said.

"It's almost like a family reunion," he said.

Some people have been to every assembly and now there is a whole new generation of people involved. People enjoy visiting and participating in the evening entertainment including drum dances, handgames and talent shows, said Erasmus.

"It's cultural, it's spiritual, it's family, he said. "It's part of being a nation," he said.

Communities take pride in hosting the assembly, and Fort Providence did an excellent job, Erasmus said.

Although it was touch and go for awhile, the assembly came together primarily because of the work of a six-person planning committee that had been focused on the event since January, said Chief Joachim Bonnetrouge of Deh Gah Got'ie First Nation.

As the host, the First Nation was tasked with taking care of all of the delegates and visitors and entertaining them. The community prepared for an influx of more than 700 people.

"They say what makes a good assembly is feed them well and make sure elders sleep good at night," said Bonnetrouge.

As of July 13, he said the community was accomplishing both of those goals. Fort Providence last hosted the Dene National Assembly in 1995.

Bonnetrouge said as the delegates started to arrive on July 11, he realized what an honour having the assembly is for the host community.

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