Dehcho negotiations resume in Hay River after eight-year stall

Dehcho negotiations resume in Hay River after eight-year stall

For the first time since 2015, main-table negotiations between Dehcho First Nations leaders, the NWT government and Canada resumed in Hay River.

While the parties have been making efforts to resume talks in recent years, the discussion has not progressed so far. Representatives from all three are reviewing a proposed Dehcho First Nations self-government plan.

Land and resource talks stalled in 2015. Dehcho members recently voted to temporarily put this issue aside in order to make progress on self-government.


Negotiators have focused on drafting an agreement in principle that outlines the responsibilities of local and regional Dehcho governments and includes agreements on governance, housing and education.

Dehcho First Nations have been holding virtual town halls for the past six months to plan their negotiation strategy with members and hear feedback.

The Dehcho Land Use Plan has been under development since 2001. The plan includes zoning for traditional land use areas, oil and gas, mining, agriculture, commercial logging, tourism camps and even a potential dedicated infrastructure corridor that could include pipelines.

Dehcho Grand Chief Herb Norwegian said he expects some aspects of this land use plan to emerge in discussions. He plans to visit all Dehcho communities ahead of the Dehcho annual meeting in the summer of 2023, where a final vote will decide whether this land use plan is the one they will bring to the negotiating table.

“Over the past several years, the Assembly has come together and made a number of smaller decisions about how they want to move forward, but the big issue – lands and resources – just stayed put,” Norwegian said.


He says while formal negotiations may have stalled, local ownership disputes have continued.

“The encroachment – ​​people are slowly slipping into the loopholes and the government is slowly stepping in with their laws and grabbing land, turning leased land into property without our consent – ​​you see that in all communities,” Norwegian said.

“And of course, the only way to really deal with things like this is to come back to the table and start talking about lands and resources.”

Cabin Radio reached out to the GNWT’s Department of Lands and Department of Environment and Natural Resources for comment, but received no response by the deadline.


What’s on the table now?

In recent negotiations, Dehcho First Nations officials are calling for federal and territorial governments to recognize that Dehcho local governments are local governments and as such are responsible for services such as land use, the judiciary and housing.

Norwegian says that while it’s normal for parties to jostle for position and authority at the negotiating table, he’s confident the past few years have shown that working together is possible.

“To take a truly forgiving approach here, we need to talk about balance and about shared responsibility. We need to talk about shared decision-making, because we’re already doing that in the Dehcho,” Norwegian said, citing the development of the Edéhzhíe Conservation Area, privately funded conservation in the Northwest Territories, and an agreement to manage the Nahanni National Park Reserve as examples .

“This whole model of shared responsibility and leadership already exists and is working well,” he said. “Here’s an opportunity for us to take an old shoe, put it back on and start making some tracks.”

While neither Norwegian nor the territorial government was able to provide any updates on the status of the latest negotiations, an NWT department seems to share Norwegian’s optimism.

“The GNWT is pleased that the Dehcho First Nations are re-entering negotiations for a land claim and self-government agreement,” said Todd Sasaki of the NWT’s Executive and Indigenous Affairs Division. “We are committed to working with Dehcho and Canada to reach an agreement that provides clarity and benefits all parties.”

The federal government confirmed its participation in the Hay River negotiations but declined to comment on the report.

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