Gwich'in Tribal Council to hold special assembly as 2 communities call for own self-gov't agreements

A special assembly of the Gwich'in Tribal Council will be held to determine whether the Nihtat Gwich'in and Tetlit Gwich'in will be able to work together under the umbrella of the Gwich'in Tribal Council to pursue self-government.

Both the Nihtat Gwich'in and Tetlit Gwich'in want to pursue individual self-government agreements

Former Gwich'in Tribal Council President Richard Nerysoo attended the council's annual general meeting and called for unity among members in their drive for self-government. (Mackenzie Scott/CBC)

A special assembly of the Gwich'in Tribal Council will be held to determine if the Nihtat Gwich'in and Tetlit Gwich'in will continue under the umbrella of the Gwich'in Tribal Council to pursue self-government, or if they will part ways and pursue their own agreements.

The resolution to hold this special assembly — the date of which is not yet selected — was passed on the last day of the Gwich'in Tribal Council's annual general meeting on Thursday in Fort McPherson, N.W.T.

Both the Nihtat Gwich'in Council and Tetlit Gwich'in Council want to pursue individual self-government agreements apart from the leadership of the Gwich'in Tribal Council. The Nihtat Gwich'in Council represents Inuvik members while the Tetlit Gwich'in Council is based in Fort McPherson.

The Gwich'in Tribal Council represents all participants in the Gwich'in Comprehensive Land Claim Agreement, signed in 1992, and includes members in the N.W.T. communities of Fort McPherson, Inuvik, Aklavik and Tsiigehtchic.

According to a June 16 news release from the Gwich'in Tribal Council, the Nihtat Gwich'in Council had formally indicated its intention to "seek a separate negotiating process for self-government," and events at the annual general meeting confirmed that intention.

As to what it is driving dissatisfaction with the current self-government negotiation process, Jozef Carnogursky, president of the Nihtat Gwich'in Council, said he would not comment until a date closer to the special assembly.

Previously, some Gwich'in community leaders had expressed concern that the Gwich'in Tribal Council was moving too quickly on self-government.

Clarity needed, says GTC VP

Jordan Peterson, Gwich'in Tribal Council vice-president, said the air needs to be cleared for members to move forward on self-government.

"Once we are really able to express the priorities that the communities have, it will not only bring more clarity but bring an opportunity of pursuing self-government — or the communities going out on their own," said Peterson.

Jordan Peterson, Gwich'in Tribal Council vice-president, said a special assembly will have to be held to determine how the Gwich'in will move forward on self-government. (Mackenzie Scott/CBC)

There was much passion and opinion — from both the public and delegates — at the annual general meeting, but all agreed on the need for unity.

Peterson said he "found it empowering that the communities want to work together and want to have a special assembly to deal with the issues that they face."   

Peterson recently finished his first year as vice-president of the GTC. He said the three-day meeting was "a learning experience to not just listen but really understand where the communities are coming from."

During a public forum, many attendees made their voices heard.

Fort McPherson elder Eileen Koe encouraged the delegation to improve communication with elders. She said she had not known the Tetlit Gwich'in Council wanted to pursue its own self-government agreement.

Fort McPherson elder Eileen Koe spoke at the annual general meeting of the Gwich'in Tribal Council. She said communication had to be better between the general membership and council leaders. (Mackenzie Scott/CBC)

"It was said that the elders knew about it and I didn't know about it," Koe said.

"This self-government that they are talking about. If we all work together and come together and continue to be one, we'll be a lot … stronger."

Richard Nerysoo came to Fort McPherson to speak at the meeting from his home in Kamloops, B.C. Nerysoo is a former Gwich'in Tribal Council president, and served a term as N.W.T. premier during his 16 years as a member of the N.W.T. legislative assembly.

Nerysoo said the attendees should remember their values: "To be thoughtful, loving and kind."

He's been working with the Tetlit Gwich'in Council, and said all communities have to work together as a collective. Even though he doesn't agree with the current self-government agreement framework, he said he doesn't believe competing community interests mean the Gwich'in can't move forward in a united way.

"We have to be a family," Nerysoo said.

"Remember, [just] because a community has a different view on these issues doesn't mean they disagree with a united nation. They just feel what's going on isn't incorporating what their thoughts are."

A date for the special assembly is expected to be decided on soon.

The communities of Tsiigehtchic and Aklavik have not said they want to pursue self government apart from the Gwich'in Tribal Council.