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Łı́ı́dlı̨́ı̨́ Kų́ę́ First Nation goes to court to battle Fort Simpson land sale

The Łı́ı́dlı̨́ı̨́ Kų́ę́ First Nation of Fort Simpson is asking the N.W.T. Supreme Court to overturn a territorial government decision to sell a lot in the Dehcho community.

Łı́ı́dlı̨́ı̨́ Kų́ę́ First Nation says N.W.T. gov't breaching duty to consult and interim measures agreement

Fort Simpson, N.W.T., on January 28, 2017. The Łı́ı́dlı̨́ı̨́ Kų́ę́ First Nation of Fort Simpson says the territorial Department of Lands went ahead with the sale of a lot on Highway 1 after doing only a token amount of consultation. (Walter Strong/CBC)

The Łı́ı́dlı̨́ı̨́ Kų́ę́ First Nation of Fort Simpson, N.W.T., is asking the Northwest Territories Supreme Court to overturn a territorial government decision to sell a lot in the Dehcho community.

The Łı́ı́dlı̨́ı̨́ Kų́ę́ First Nation (LKFN) says the sale permanently removes its right to claim the land through its land claim and self government talks. 

In a request for judicial review filed in court on Dec. 14, the LKFN says the territorial Department of Lands went ahead with the sale after doing only a token amount of consultation.

"The entire consultation process consisted of an exchange of a few letters, despite the [Łı́ı́dlı̨́ı̨́ Kų́ę́ First Nation] expressing serious and reasonable concerns about the impacts of the title decision on Aboriginal and treaty rights," says the First Nation in its request for the courts to overturn the decision.

The LKFN goes on to say the department did not try to understand or address the concerns it raised, "and instead simply treated the exchange of correspondence as an opportunity for the [Łı́ı́dlı̨́ı̨́ Kų́ę́ First Nation] to 'blow off steam' before GNWT (government of the Northwest Territories) proceeded to do what it had intended to do all along."

CBC asked the territorial government why it decided to sell the property in the face of opposition from both the LKFN and the Dehcho First Nations. In an email from the press secretary's office, the government said it will not comment on the case because it is before the courts.

The email included a quote attributed to Lands Minister Shane Thompson: "The GNWT is committed to respecting Indigenous rights and engaging meaningfully about decisions involving land in the territory. As a government we have the responsibility of being stewards of public land and to make decisions that respect and benefit all N.W.T. residents. We take that very seriously."

In another email, an official with the Department of Lands said the property has not been sold yet.

The LKFN did not respond to CBC inquiries about the court action.

Landmark Logistics Ltd. applied to purchase lot

According to a summary included in the LKFN's court filing, last spring Landmark Logistics Ltd. applied to the government to purchase the lot.

Landmark is part of the business empire of the Northwest Territories' Rowe family. Owen Rowe is listed as the sole director of the company. In an email he said he had no comment on the court action. Landmark had been leasing the property.

Located on Highway 1 as it heads out of Fort Simpson toward Wrigley, the land is being used by Rowe's companies as a bulk fuel facility and construction yard. Rowe's was part of a group of companies that once had plans to build a large truck stop on the site.

Rowe companies or family members accounted for $3,000 of the $5,000 in cash contributions Minister Thompson received during the last election campaign, according to Elections NWT. Thompson is also the MLA for the area. There's no suggestion, however, that these contributions had anything to do with the decision to sell the land.

'An attempt to avoid honouring its obligations'

The LKFN says the decision to sell the land is a violation of the Dehcho Interim Measures Agreement. In the agreement the territorial government said it will not sell or issue any new leases on "undeveloped" Commissioner's land in the region without the support of Dehcho First Nations.

According to the LKFN's application to the court, the territorial government is taking the position that because the land is leased, it is no longer undeveloped. The LKFN says that interpretation is "an attempt by the GNWT to avoid honouring its obligations."

The First Nation says it first learned of the application to purchase the land in a May 19 letter from the territorial government. Dehcho First Nations Grand Chief Gladys Norwegian raised concerns about the proposed sale in a July 2 letter, according to LKFN court documents. Łı́ı́dlı̨́ı̨́ Kų́ę́ Chief Gerald Antoine also objected to the sale in a July 20 letter and asked for a meeting about it.

On July 21 the territorial government wrote back asking Chief Antoine if he would be providing any more information. In its application, the LKFN says it heard no more from the government until Nov. 3, when the territorial government's director of land administration said in a letter "The DFN (Dehcho First Nations) has not identified any potential adverse impact on any asserted or established Aboriginal or treaty rights."

On Nov. 26 the department made a final decision to sell the land, according to court documents.

The LKFN is asking the courts to prevent the government from following through on the sale and declare that the government breached its duty to consult the First Nation on the matter.

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