Delays in signing protected areas agreement could cost K'asho Got'ine government $1M

If the agreement is not signed before the territorial election, the next chance likely won't happen until the new year, said Stephen Kakfwi, one of the negotiators who helped create the protected area.

Community leader says he won't sign on until he's convinced all parties have been consulted

The Ramparts area of the Northwest Territories is home to towering limestone cliffs, wetlands and boreal forest. An agreement to protect 10,000 square kilometres has been ratified, but community leaders have not yet signed on. (NWT Protected Areas Strategy)

Delays on signing an establishment agreement on the Ts'udé Nilíné Tu'eyta protected area in the Northwest Territories could cost the K'asho Got'ine government about $1 million, one of the architects of the agreement says. 

If the agreement is not signed before the territorial election, the next chance likely won't happen until the new year after the Northwest Territories forms a new government, said Stephen Kakfwi, one of the negotiators who helped establish the protected area.

That delay would mean $1 million in federal money earmarked for this year won't be spent, he said. 

"It's a substantial loss to a community that has no mining, no oil and gas activity, zero economic prospects for the next few years," Kakfwi said. 

"This is money that can flow into the community immediately," he said. "Why is there a delay?" 

That's because Edwin Erutse, the president of one of three organizations that needs to sign on to the agreement with the territorial government, has yet to sign on. 

Ts'udé Nilíné Tu'eyta, or Ramparts River and Wetlands, is a 10,000 square-kilometre area outside Fort Good Hope, N.W.T. which holds special significance for Dene and Métis living in the community. 

Stephen Kakfwi, one of the negotiators of the agreement says the community could stand to lose $1 million if the delays on signing the agreement continue. (Alyssa Mosher/CBC)

The money is coming from a combination of the federal government and other organizations, to set up the management structure for the protected area. 

That includes money to pay for at least two and up to six guardianship positions, Kakfwi explained. 

Though elders in Fort Good Hope have long wanted to protect the area, negotiations only picked up about a year and a half ago. 

Earlier this month, community members voted 93-54 to ratify an agreement between the N.W.T. government, the Fort Good Hope Métis Land Corporation #54, the Fort Good Hope Dene Band, and the Yamoga Land Corporation. All four parties need to sign on for it to move forward. 

Joslyn Oosenbrug, a spokeswoman for the territorial government, said the government is waiting for the K'asho Got'ine to confirm the ratification process has been completed. 

She also confirmed K'asho Got'ine and the territory secured money from the federal Nature Fund for the park and that significant delays to the signing would likely result in that money being lost. 

But Erutse, the president of the Yamoga Land Corporation, says he's not convinced everyone in leadership has been consulted — specifically Chief Daniel Masuzumi and the recently-elected band council. 

"Money is not the driving factor," he said. "It's more about ensuring the leadership is satisfied with how the whole agreement is structured and the role that the community and the people are playing." 

Edwin Erutse, the president of the Yamoga Land Corporation, says he's prepared to wait until he's convinced all parties have been consulted. (Alex Brockman/CBC)

Erutse says he supports the deal, but he's not yet signed on because he wants to make sure the band and council are fully consulted. 

"I want to protect the ramparts from any future oil and gas or any type of mineral exploration," he said.

"We're just making sure all the parties to the agreement are happy, are satisfied with the agreement, they have a very good solid understanding," he said. 

Erutse wouldn't provide a timeline for when he expects to sign on to the establishment agreement, but said he's prepared to wait until he's convinced all parties have been consulted. 

A meeting is expected to happen in Fort Good Hope Tuesday afternoon to try and bring the parties to an understanding. 

Kakfwi, meanwhile, says community members and leadership have been consulted throughout the development process. That included several meetings and workshops to answer questions and speak to community members, including Slavey-language meetings for unilingual speakers. 

"All the work we've done has been to keep the community briefed on this, to say 'we don't know what's in there,' that's pretty irresponsible," Kakfwi said.

"Politically you have leaders there that did not want this to go ahead, they did not even want to have a vote, but the vote went ahead, they said they'd respect that," he said. "Now they're balking at it."