APTN National News
A small Dene First Nation in the heart of the Northwest Territories has passed an unprecedented self-government agreement. After 18 years of negotiations,Délįnę is the first community in Canada to have a combined Indigenous/public self-government agreement that represents both the 1,000 First Nation members across Canada, and the non-Indigenous members in the community.
“We’re not a completely Aboriginal community, we do have non-Aboriginals living amongst us,” said Danny Gaudet, the chief negotiator on the self-government agreement.
As of Sept. 1, three governing bodies were rolled into one. Délįnę’s charter community, the Délįnę Land Corporation, and Délįnę First Nation are now one government with one set of rules: the Délįnę Got’įnę government.
Gaudet said that having three separate institutions created a divide in the community.
“The elders’ believe that we all have to be working together, so we have to design a system that brings people together, not separate people,” said Gaudet.
In the beginning of negotiations, many people didn’t understand this new style of governance.
Morris Neyelle is a community member and briefly worked as an advisor on the agreement. Neyelle said that people didn’t trust the local or territorial governments in creating this agreement, but the community’s elders pushed for this.
“It all has to do with the Elders,” he said. “For the longest time in history our survival was to be together as one, that’s we how’ve survived for years. The Europeans broke up us, but this agreement will bring the people back together.”
Délįnę is a community of hunters, fishers and trappers. It sits on the shores of Great Bear Lake (Sahtúdé) – the fourth largest lake in North America – in the Sahtu region of the Northwest Territories, and is home to 500 Sahtu Got’ine (Big Lake People).
While uniting community members under one structure of governance, this new agreement also hopes to safe-guard Délįnę’s land and resources for the future.
Their land is rich in uranium, silver, copper and 160 kilometres away in the Sahtu community of Norman Wells, oil rigs are waiting to be dusted off again. There’s an impending threat of a Mackenzie Valley Pipeline that would bring natural gas from the Beaufort Sea, through the Sahtu region, and into Northern Alberta.
Gaudet said the day will come when people travel to Great Bear Lake for these resources, and even water.
“And if we were to govern just ourselves, others would come and basically overtake any public systems that are in the area and live with their own laws, their own creation of governing systems,” he said.
But under a new combined self-government, which is predominantly governed by Indigenous people “our laws, beliefs, and customs would always apply in the community.”
Eventually, the Délįnę Got’įnę government will take over education, justice, health care, as well as child and family services.
But Gaudet said it will take a lot of time and collaboration with the territorial government to seamlessly devolve the authority into the community’s hands.
In the meantime, three days of celebration started Tuesday in Délįnę.