N.W.T. Gwich’in council candidates split on devolution fight

Candidates in the upcoming Gwich'in Tribal Council elections are split on the idea of fighting the N.W.T. government's devolution Agreement in Principle.

Some say lawsuit should be dropped

Some candidates in the upcoming Gwich'in Tribal Council election say the council's lawsuit against the territory over the devolution AIP should be dropped. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

Candidates at the Gwich'in Tribal Council are split on the idea of fighting the N.W.T. government’s devolution Agreement in Principle (AIP) in court.

At least one candidate running for president says the council could be seen as holding up the process for other aboriginal groups and face overwhelming legal fees.

Others say a lawsuit is essential because the Gwich’in claim they were not properly consulted.

"To take this initiative on our own is, to me, not very well thought-out," said Robert Alexie Jr., one of three candidates running to be president of the council.

"I don’t think too much of the AIP, to tell you the truth, but I also don’t think it’s very prudent for the Tribal Council to take this initiative on its own. It’s something that should have been discussed with other aboriginal organizations and similar organizations across the territories."

Last February, the Gwich’in Tribal Council passed a motion in its assembly to launch a Supreme Court case over devolution.

Alexie says he believes the lawsuit isn’t popular among Gwich’in members in communities.

Those who support the lawsuit say the threat of it is an important tool to give the council bargaining power.

Norman Snowshoe, who is running for vice-president of the council, supports that idea.

"If the Gwich'in were directed to take this to court, then I support that if it's under direction from the Gwich'in people," said Snowshoe.

Candidate also concerned about council’s spending

Alexie also objects to the council’s spending money to fight the AIP. He said the council has spent $230,000 on a report presented to the Gwich’in Assembly and Dene Nation last year.

"We’re paying the brunt of this lawsuit and right now, we don’t know how much it’s going cost."

Alexie said the council should reconsider a lawsuit against devolution, especially now that the Sahtu have signed on to negotiate.

The council elections will be held on June 22.

Meanwhile, the first round of negotiations on devolution with the Sahtu begin Thursday in Yellowknife.

CBC is trying to reach all candidates running for positions at the Gwich’in Tribal Council elections.