Dehcho First Nations, N.W.T. gov't at impasse over land claim

Dehcho Grand Chief Herb Norwegian says the N.W.T. government is asking them to accept a land claim settlement or accept that 'negotiations have failed,' but Norwegian also says there were no negotiations at all.

Dehcho Grand Chief accuses government of offering an ultimatum without doing any negotiating

Dehcho Grand Chief Herb Norwegian says the N.W.T. government is asking them to accept a land claim settlement or accept that 'negotiations have failed,' but Norwegian also says there were no negotiations at all. (CBC)

The grand chief of the Dehcho First Nations says the Government of the Northwest Territories is asking them to accept a land claim settlement, even though the government hasn't actually negotiated anything with them.

The Dehcho, whose traditional territory is centred in the southwest of the N.W.T., are asking for control of about 50,000 square kilometres of land in their land claim negotiations, including both surface and subsurface rights.

In a letter to the First Nation, the territorial government, which has taken over negotiations with the Dehcho from the federal government since devolution in 2013, offers 37,000 square kilometres, with only surface rights, as well as royalties of about 18 per cent on the land.

The territorial government says that's as flexible as it can be, and if that offer isn't good enough, then both parties should "acknowledge that negotiations have failed."

However, Dehcho Grand Chief Herb Norwegian, calling the territorial government's offer an "ultimatum," says there were no negotiations at all.

"What they need to understand," says Norwegian, "is that if they are going to get any certainty down the Mackenzie they are going to have to go through the Dehcho, whether they like it or not." 

Norwegian, who is calling for a mediator to help repair the relationship between the two parties, says there is no other solution but to work through the dissension and come to an agreement.

"It becomes a pretty dicey issue for the territorial government if they think they're gonna walk away and leave the Dehcho hanging," he says. "Because that's not the way that we operate."

On Monday in the legislative assembly, Premier Bob McLeod said the territory is simply being honest with the Dehcho First Nations about how flexible it can be.

"The government will continue to work in good faith with the communities in the Dehcho Process," he says.

"However this can only be made with frank and honest conversations. This means we must be able to lay out the extent of what we can do while still be fair to everyone. This is simply being honest and respectful. It is not being a bully or acting in a threatening manner.​"

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