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N.W.T. Premier Floyd Roland, seen in a CBC-TV interview in October, stated in a letter this week that he will tentatively sign the devolution agreement-in-principle with the federal government on Jan. 26. ((CBC))

Northwest Territories Premier Floyd Roland plans to sign a controversial devolution agreement next week, regardless of how much support there is for it from aboriginal leaders.

In a confidential letter obtained by CBC News, Roland set a tentative date of Jan. 26 to sign the devolution agreement-in-principle (AIP) with the federal government.

"The invitation remains open for aboriginal leaders to sign the AIP, and to remain part of the process as negotiations continue," Roland wrote in the letter, which was dated Monday and addressed to aboriginal groups.

"While we sincerely hope that aboriginal governments will join us in this historic moment, we will, of course, respect whatever decision you make, as we trust you will respect ours."

The agreement-in-principle sets the terms for transferring federal authority over the N.W.T.'s land and resources to the territorial government.

Since a copy of the agreement was obtained by CBC News and made public in October, some of the N.W.T.'s aboriginal leaders have said they will not sign the agreement with the territorial and federal governments.

Dehcho First Nations Grand Chief Sam Gargan said the exclusion of aboriginal governments from the talks that created the agreement-in-principle remains a major sticking point among many chiefs.

"It's a big issue with all the First Nations, and there's a lot of action that is being proposed by other regions," Gargan told CBC News on Wednesday.

Other chiefs have said the proposed devolution agreement is not a good financial deal for the territory.

The Gwich'in Tribal Council has earlier said they may take legal action if the territorial government tries to push the devolution agreement through.

Negotiation protocol in works

As a compromise, aboriginal leaders proposed a process for negotiating devolution-related issues. Roland met with them earlier this month to discuss creating a protocol for those negotiations.

"Finalizing a protocol between the [Government of the Northwest Territories] and aboriginal governments would facilitate progress not only on devolution, but also other areas of engagement," Roland wrote in the letter.

At the same time, Roland raised a "fundamental concern" with the aboriginal leaders' request to "resolve a range of complex and significant matters" before the agreement-in-principle can be signed.

"The current AIP will not be on the table indefinitely, and the consequences of failing to move forward are serious," Roland wrote.

Roland said without a signed agreement-in-principle, the federal government will continue to control and collect revenue from development on Crown lands in the N.W.T.

"We have offered to negotiate with aboriginal governments to share the N.W.T.'s portion of resource revenues, but without a signed AIP, there is no way to conclude these negotiations and there will be no resource revenues to share," he wrote.

But Gargan called the territorial government's proposal to split resource royalties with aboriginal groups a "non-starter" issue, arguing that they should be getting a larger share than what is being suggested.

The proposal calls for the federal government to get half of the royalties, while the territorial and aboriginal governments would split the remaining half.