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Building unity a top priority, says new grand chief of the Dehcho First Nations

Gladys Norwegian says she will be visiting communities who have stepped away from land claims negotiations with the federal government.

Gladys Norwegian plans to visit communities that have left land claims negotiations with federal government

Dehcho First Nations Grand Chief Gladys Norwegian says she wants to take a collaborative approach when deciding how to respond to the federal government's recent land claim offer. (Kate Kyle/CBC)

The newly elected grand chief of the Dehcho First Nations (DFN) says building unity is a top priority for her in her new role.  

Gladys Norwegian, who is also a former chief of Jean Marie River, N.W.T., was elected as grand chief on July 24. She told CBC she intends to "reach out" to communities in the territory that have left the ongoing land claims negotiation process between the DFN and the Canadian government.

That includes the Acho Dene Koe First Nation in Fort Liard, the first to pull out of the organization a decade ago. It subsequently began its own land claim negotiations with the territorial and federal governments. 

Norwegian said her goal is to contact them, and "have some really good communication going."

She said her first visit will be to Nahanni Butte on Friday. 

Norwegian said she wants to take a collaborative approach with the Dehcho bands to decide how to respond to the federal government's recent land claim offer, which the DFN received in the spring.

Our First Nations people need strong leadership, especially in a time like this.- Gladys Norwegian

"That is a huge item that we really have to put our heads together on and let them know from here," she said. 

The latest offer received negative feedback from members of the First Nations at a general assembly in Wrigley last week.

The Dehcho have been in land claim negotiations with the federal government for 19 years. 

The traditional territory of the Dehcho First Nations, outlined in blue. The Dehcho have been in land negotiations with the federal government for 19 years. (Dehcho First Nations)

First woman in the role

Norwegian is the first woman to take on the leadership role of grand chief.

She said she has heard from many young women who are happy about her win, and have sent her congratulatory messages.

"I'm very happy about that," she said. "Woman or not — if you think you have the ability and skills, nothing should stop you from trying. Our First Nations people need strong leadership, especially in a time like this."

Norwegian said her advice to future leaders is to build relationships with elders and understand the importance of "working with people and developing a very good relationship — modelling the way."

"Have a really good shared vision for sure," she said.

Norwegian also said she knows that others are watching her performance.  

"It doesn't feel bad that people are listening and watching — but they are."

Norwegian comes from a political family. Her father, Louie Norwegian, was also once chief of Jean Marie River and was known for his innovative decision to build a school in the community so that children would no longer be taken away to residential schools.

With files from Lawrence Nayally

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