'We were very fortunate': Deline's negotiation team emerges intact after 20 years
Community held recognition ceremony Wednesday with Aboriginal leaders from across N.W.T.
Deline marked the beginning of a new era with a recognition ceremony Wednesday. The N.W.T. community may serve as a blueprint for other First Nations seeking self-governance — though it may be one near impossible to follow.
Delegates from across the territory made their way to the Great Bear Lake community, including Tlicho Grand Chief Eddie Erasmus, Gwich'in Tribal Council president Bobbie Jo Greenland Morgan, and Sahtu Secretariat chairperson Ethel Blondin-Andrew — herself a former teacher in Deline.
Following a traditional feeding of the fire ceremony in the morning, the group shared the stage in the community's gymnasium with members of the new Deline Got'ine Government, as well as N.W.T. Premier Bob McLeod and Michael McLeod, the territory's member of Parliament.
The stature of the dignitaries on stage defined the occasion as a momentous one, but it was the makeup of another group on stage that underlined the key to Deline's success.
The community's negotiation team, led by Danny Gaudet, stood proudly after nearly two decades of work, stable and — remarkably — largely the same group that began the process.
"We were very fortunate that we had a big team, and that we were able to keep our team intact," said Gaudet.
'I thought it would only take two years'
A stable negotiating team is a luxury afforded by few First Nations seeking self-government. Due to the often years-long negotiations, teams are often replaced or retire, causing months of delays as the new group familiarizes themselves with the file.
Last year, Dehcho First Nations chief negotiator Georges Erasmus retired after 12 years working on the file. He was replaced by Garth Wallbridge in February.
However, Gaudet — and the rest of Deline's team — has managed to remain together since the mid-1990s, speaking on behalf of the community while their federal and territorial counterparts saw numerous changes.
"When I took on this job, I thought it would only take two years," said Gaudet, with a smile. "The elders were adamant that we had to have self-government.
"Bring our people back together. That's the whole concept of this."
Flanked by elders Leon Modeste and Alfred Taniton, both of whom worked with the negotiation team since the beginning, Gaudet spoke to the gathering about the significance of the moment — and the importance of the work ahead.
The Deline Got'ine government estimates it will be three to five years before they are able to begin assuming responsibilities from the territorial government, such as education.
However, after 20 years, his negotiation team will, finally, be able to rest and watch from the sidelines.
"My journey on this file has come to an end," said Gaudet.
"The new journey has to be taken over by the youth. Because I believe we're not even close to being finished yet."