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Gwich'in Tribal Council confirms devolution lawsuit
Rigid negotiation process questioned; board wants its 22 recommendations for agreement-in-principle adopted before it will come to the table

Lyndsay Herman
Northern News Services
Published Monday, June 4, 2012

The Gwich'in Tribal Council has confirmed it will continue with legal action against the territorial and federal governments.

NNSL photo/graphic

Richard Nerysoo says the council is concerned that the only way for them to have a voice at the negotiation table is to sign an agreement they are not happy with. - NNSL file photo

Richard Nerysoo, president of the Council, said the lawsuit, which the council has allocated $200,000 to pay for, was revisited at the quarterly meeting in Inuvik on May 27 due to comments in the media and to address the need for more internal leadership discussion. The announcement comes on the heels of the Sahtu Dene's decision to sign the agreement-in-principle.

The Gwich'in Tribal Council has taken legal action because it believes the territorial and federal governments violated Section 35 of the Canadian Constitution Act by not appropriately consulting the Gwich'in Tribal Council before going forward with the agreement-in-principle last year.

Nerysoo said the council is now concerned that the only way for them to have a voice at the negotiation table is to sign an agreement they are not happy with.

"The reality is that we've not been at the table because if we are to come to the table we would have to accept the terms of the Devolution Agreement-in-Principle," said Nerysoo. "Part of our 22 recommendations requires substantive change to the principles that have been adopted."

This conflict is one Michael Nadli, MLA for Deh Cho, said he expects to see more of as the rigid negotiation progress moves swiftly toward a final agreement and aboriginal groups are faced with the option of either signing the agreement-in-principle or sitting on the sidelines of the negotiation.

"As we move further down the line the likelihood of these kinds of actions is real," Nadli said. "I think there has to be some clear open minds at this point ... More likely there are issues and concerns that groups have, perhaps there needs to be a form other than the negotiations process because the negotiations progress seems to be steaming forward. It's a formal process that groups have to formally enter into."

Nerysoo said the Gwich'in Tribal Council's devolution recommendations address concerns on the proposed net fiscal benefits, namely resource royalties, the resource royalty cap and how those affect the formula financing grant.

Nerysoo said the council is also concerned with how a devolution agreement will affect land claims agreements still in negotiations. He said he believes it will be difficult for the federal government to take back jurisdiction given to the territorial government through devolution and redistribute it as required by future land claim agreements.

Premier Bob McLeod said devolution will not interfere with land claims currently settled or in negotiations.

"Devolution will not and cannot interfere with negotiations," said McLeod. "Treaty rights are enshrined in the constitution and Canada will have the right to take back control of any devolved lands for settlement of future land claims."

Nerysoo also expressed concerns with how the agreement-in-principle will address territorial land and water board policies whereas McLeod said the issue is not within the scope of devolution negotiations and when the time comes to address the topic, the territorial government would like to establish an integrated resource management regime that is consistent with land claim agreements.

McLeod said a final devolution agreement is expected by mid-fall of this year with implementation in April 2014.

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