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News From the North: A summary of First Nations affairs in Canada

NORTHWEST TERRITORIES

OTTAWA ? David R. Peterson, the former Premier of Ontario, was named as Ottawa's chief negotiator for the transfer of responsibility for land management from the federal government to the government of the Northwest Territories on Sept. 18.

Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development Robert Nault said he was "delighted" Peterson had accepted the position and that the federal government is committed to the natural resources of the Northwest Territories being controlled by its own government.

Nault's First Nations Governance Act is very unpopular with most tribal governments, even inspiring protests in his home riding in Kenora, Ontario, and the announcement provides his ministry with some much needed good press.

The process of devolution began at the Intergovernmental Forum in May 2001. According to a statement from the ministry, representatives of the Aboriginal Summit, the Government of Canada, and the territories endorsed a memorandum calling for the transfer of control. There was no timeframe given for when negotiations on the process will take place.

Peterson is currently the chairman of the Toronto law firm Cassels, Brock & Blackwell.

ALGONQUINS OF BARRIER LAKE

KITIGANIK, QUEBEC ? The Canadian on-line publication First Perspective reported on Sept. 25 that a logging standoff was narrowly avoided, involving the Algonquins of Barrier Lake, by last minute negotiations with the Province of Quebec.

The report said logging on the Barrier Lake territory had been suspended since the federal government abandoned a trilateral resource management program involving the Algonquins, Ottawa and Quebec. The suspension caused the temporary closure of the privately owned Domtar Mill in Grand Remous, according to the report. Domtar had threatened to barricade the entrance to Barrier Lake in retaliation for the closure.

Representatives of Barrier Lake said the plant closure was unfortunate, but was the direct result of Ottawa's retreat and the Algonquins legitimate refusal to allow more logging on their territory without the 'protection of the agreement.'

The Algonquins have had a rocky relationship with Ottawa in recent months, including a stormy meeting with Minster Robert Nault, which ended with him being whisked away for security reasons by the RCMP.

DENE THA' FIRST NATION

EDMONTON, ALBERTA ? Robert Nault, Minster of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, announced $1.96 million (CDN) in federal funding on Sept. 19 to assist the Dene Tha' First nation in northern Alberta get into the oil business.

The Dene Tha' will enter into a partnership with EnCana Corp. and Lakota Drilling, Ltd. to purchase and operate two oil rigs as part of a $14.9 million (CDN) development project.

"There is strong public support for government investment to help First Nations become self-sufficient," said Nault in a press release. "Canadians want to see improvements in the lives of the First Nations' people and believe increased and sustained economic development is the key to leading to greater First Nations' autonomy."

The ministry estimates that up to 132 jobs will be created. It reported that 45 members of the Dene Tha' have already been trained at the Petroleum Industry Training Service in anticipation of the project.