Dogribs dealt a new deal


RAE-EDZO, Northwest Territories - On the 82nd anniversary after the Tlicho (Dogrib) Nation entered into its first treaty with the Canadian government, this band in the Northwest Territories has strengthened its future with a much more comprehensive settlement.

Lands extending over 15,200 square miles plus a $152 million-settlement by Ottawa will be transferred according to the new Tlicho Agreement. The Tlicho become the first Aboriginals in the Northwest Territories to have both a land claims and a self-government agreement following the signing on Aug. 25 of the 244-page treaty in Rae-Edzo (Behchoko), about 60 miles north of Yellowknife.

All parties unanimously share the belief that the completion of this government-to-government-to-government deal that included Ottawa and Yellowknife paves the way for economic and cultural self-reliance for the Dogribs, who number about 3,000. People who have traditionally lived off the land, the Tlicho will now have their own say about how they will manage all of the resources attached to this vast acreage, the size of Switzerland.

"In every community most of the activity is hunting and fishing," said John B. Zoe, the chief negotiator for the Tlicho. "We will get more say of how our lands are regulated."

In front of a packed school gym, where Zoe received a warm applause, and across the street in Rae's hockey arena on closed-circuit television, hundreds witnessed the gala affair that attracted numerous federal, territorial and political dignitaries to ceremonially finalize the agreement. Officially the Tlicho Agreement won't become law until both the Ottawa and Yellowknife parliaments pass the bill later this fall but amidst all of the planning and agreement during 12 years of negotiations there is no uncertainty the Dogribs will get their land.

While there are about a dozen bands across Canada that have self-government, Prime Minister Jean Chr?tien stated this agreement will become the example for which other negotiations can rally around.

"It will serve as a model for other indigenous people in Canada and other countries to implement self-government," Chr?tien said.

As the event was a celebration of elders and political leaders, to have gotten to this stage required the support of the citizens of all four communities (besides Rae-Edzo there's Lac La Martre, Rae Lakes and Snare Lake; Whati, Gameti and Wekweti respectively) comprising of Dogrib Treaty 11 Council, the treaty signed by Chief Monfwi on Aug. 22, 1921. With 91 percent of those eligible to cast ballots, more than 84 percent voiced their massive approval in the regional referendum in late June.

"I'm overwhelmed by the support of our people, for the work of our negotiators and cannot begin to express what a proud day this is for the Tlicho," said Grand Chief Joe Rabesca back then.

Among the signatories was present-day INAC Minister Robert Nault who stressed one of the significant elements of this agreement is that it doesn't extinguish any of the benefits associated with being Aboriginal. In order that the Dogribs do not deny the rights of others on this property, in return, the Tlicho didn't have to surrender any First Nations' rights.

"This will preserve the history, culture and traditions to flourish along with economic opportunities for the Tlicho people," said Nault.

The minister also pointed out this agreement permits for future revisions for such occurrences that otherwise cannot be foreseen now. This is contained under Section 2.6 regarding Certainty.

"We must be able to come back 100 years from now because there are no guarantees the governing structure of today will be the same," the minister said, referring back to the 1921 treaty when the then federal government could not be held accountable to its promises.

On the surface $152 million plus the land seems to be a significant chunk but the agreement is very specific about when the monies are coming and how they will be used. The figure is derived from 1997 on an agreed upon $90 million as a compensation package and this amount will have grown by two-thirds after interest following the final annual installment in 2017.

However, the band won't receive any of that money until the sixth year of the contract once a $27.9 million loan will have been paid back by the Tlicho to Ottawa.

Even then, the remaining $124.1 million will remain locked into a heritage fund forever with only the yearly interest on this principal to be used for the operations of the Dogribs' governance.

That doesn't mean the Dogrib Treaty 11 Council will do without until then. Upon the official passing of this treaty, the Tlicho will receive $10 million for capital infrastructure and will also collect a minimum of $3.5 million annually for the next five years until the communities become economically self-sustaining.

Within the Canadian political structure, territories do not control their own finances nor their natural resources. This anomaly will permit the Tlicho self-government to have more input over its economic assets than the government of the Northwest Territories has in its jurisdiction.

"Except forestry within municipal boundaries, (natural assets) are Canada's lands. So, the Tlicho will control more of their lands than the government of the Northwest Territories over theirs," said Jim Antoine, Minister of Aboriginal Affairs for the Northwest Territories.