New approach to Gwich'in self-government will give more control to communities

A new, community-based model of self-government was discussed at this year’s Gwich’in Tribal Council annual general assembly in Tsiigehtchic, N.W.T.

Leaders say new model replaces the older, centralized approach

The Gwich'in Tribal Council annual general assembly was held in Tsiigehtchic, N.W.T., on the weekend. (Mario De Ciccio/Radio-Canada)

The Gwich'in Tribal Council is reinterpreting its understanding of self-government as defined in its 2016 self-government agreement-in-principle. Leaders say it's moving toward a more community-centred approach that replaces the old, centralized model.

The new self-government model was discussed this past weekend during this year's annual general assembly in Tsiigehtchic, N.W.T.

"[At] last year's [annual general] assembly, we were given direction to move forward on a more collaborative community-based approach," said Jordan Peterson, the council's deputy grand chief.

The council has represented Designated Gwich'in Organizations (DGOs) in Inuvik, Fort McPherson, Aklavik and Tsiigehtchic.

Last year, the Nihtat Gwich'in Council, which represents Inuvik members, made the decision to start its own negotiations separate from the Gwich'in Tribal Council.

The Gwich'in signed a comprehensive land claim agreement in 1992, and have been negotiating self-government ever since.

Jordan Peterson, Gwich’in Tribal Council deputy grand chief, said the council is listening to the communities. (Mario De Ciccio/Radio-Canada)

Peterson said they aren't necessarily changing the self-government agreement-in-principle signed in 2016; they're just adjusting the agreement to accommodate members' wishes.

He said the changes will give more control to the communities, and will allow room for change in the future.

"We are taking their voices and really trying to put it in the agreement-in-principle," Peterson said, "and really trying to keep the door open so we can have … living and breathing agreements, so if something isn't working 10 years down the road ... our people have the chance to revisit that and improve it.

"I think that … has proven to move the dial forward with regards to the relationship between GTC the DGOs."

Communication has improved

Peterson and GTC Grand Chief Bobbie Jo Greenland-Morgan both say they have worked to improve communication since they were elected three years ago.

But Greenland-Morgan said not every problem that leadership faces was related to communication. Some of the issues they have seen with self-government are connected to the land-claim agreement itself.

"I think a lot of people today aren't happy with the land claim, but we need our people to understand that we can't change the past," said Greenland-Morgan.

"We've inherited it and what we are trying to do as young leaders is to work with it and take the strength out of it and use it as a tool… Here's a way we can change the future and that's what it's all about."

Greenland-Morgan said the GTC reduced expenses since last year.

Andrew Charlie, who was president of Ehdiitat Gwich'in Council at the time of the assembly, said members of his community are happy with the new approach. (Mario De Ciccio/Radio-Canada)

Andrew Charlie, who was president of the Ehdiitat Gwich'in Council in Aklavik, said members of his community are happy with the new approach.

"To me, it's a much simpler route to go… it puts the communities at the forefront," he said.

Charlie said he feels this will unite the membership and bring everyone closer together.

Going into their last year in leadership, Greenland-Morgan and Peterson said other focuses include getting an elder-advisory council established and continuing to get young people involved in the council.