After an eight year delay, the Dehcho First Nations (DFN) is resuming Dehcho land claim negotiations with Canada and the government of the Northwest Territories.
The First Nations’ lawyer Chris Reid made the announcement at the 29th Dehcho Annual Assembly in Fort Simpson, N.W.T., last week.
The parties signed an agreement-in-principle — known as a stepping stone to a contract — in 2014, but negotiations stalled shortly thereafter.
Reid said that’s because around late 2014 or early 2015, the territorial government came to the table with a take-it-or-leave-it offer, suggesting DFN take 17 per cent of the land it was asking for, which DFN declined.
At the Dehcho Assembly in 2019, DFN put aside negotiations on land and resources, to instead prioritize education, health and governance.
Now, newly elected Dehcho Grand Chief Herb Norwegian is eager to return to the table to negotiate land claims.
Norwegian said one of his first goals is to go to the communities to start individual conversations with the hope of bringing them together to have a collective discussion.
“I’m hoping that maybe we’ll have a good clear option that we can go with and get some marching orders to move forward,” said Norwegian.
He also said there are other options beyond negotiating with the government. One of them is to start looking at protocols for land government, the land code. This would allow each nation to assert the right to their own land.
Former Dehcho First Nations Grand Chief Kenny Cayen started the land code in 2021.
“Nothing is going to be given up,” said Norwegian. “And if companies want to do business in our territory, they’ll have to come talk to the [Dehcho] First Nations.”
Reid endorsed moving ahead with the land code as an option, but also said that for the first time in eight years, the parties had the agreement-in-principle on the table at a virtual town hall meeting and they have approved a work plan for the next year.
Land claim negotiations with the federal and territorial governments began in 1999 and have stalled over the decades.
Reid said the Dehcho First Nations are planning more virtual town hall meetings over the next year and encourages members to participate and ask questions.
“Don’t just sit doing nothing on lands and resources,” said Reid. “Lands and resources are not on the negotiating table right now, but it would be dangerous to sit back and do nothing.”
CBC News reached out to the government of the Northwest Territories regarding the delay in negotiations, but did not hear back before publication.