Northern scholar wants to make land claim agreements more reader-friendly

Marlisa Brown's policy research paper looks at the current resources in place aimed at helping people better understand self-government agreements and gives policy recommendations to further support this.

Marlisa Brown is in the fifth — and latest — cohort of fellows from The Jane Glassco Northern Fellowship

A portrait of a woman smiling.
Marlisa Brown is in the latest cohort of fellows from The Jane Glassco Northern Fellowship through the Gordon Foundation. (Submitted by Marlisa Brown)

Land claim settlement agreements can be full of legal jargon and complex writing, but Marlisa Brown said she has an idea of how to make them more accessible.

Her policy research paper Reconnecting to Our Relations: The Need for Formal Land Claim and Self-Government Education in the Northwest Territories, looks at the current resources in place aimed at helping people better understand self-government and land claim agreements and gives policy recommendations to further support this.

One of the recommendations is to digitize land claims and self-government agreements to make them more accessible to people. She also suggests creating or supporting summer student and internship positions and creating a centre for Northern Indigenous Governance within Aurora College.

The paper was published in May as part of The Jane Glassco Northern Fellowship.

Brown, who is Gwich'in, born in Inuvik, N.W.T., and raised in Yellowknife, is in the fifth — and latest — cohort of fellows.

It's an 18-month policy and leadership development program for northerners between the ages of 25 to 35. It's built around four regional gatherings, and offers training, mentorship and networking opportunities. The website says the fellows are recognized to have leadership potential and to be "eager to address policy challenges facing the North."

'This yearning inside myself'

She said her policy paper really stems from her own upbringing.

"I've heard countless times from community members and my own family just really encouraging me to read the claim and that it is important to know about," Brown said. "It really instilled this yearning inside myself to get the agreement and read it."

She had the chance to read it when she was gifted one from her mom in her mid-teens. But it was a struggle to get through, she said.

"I felt really stuck. And at that time, I wasn't really aware of sort of like the nature of the agreements being a legal agreement," she said.

"It felt really frustrating and discouraging trying to read it and not really fully understanding what it was or how to sort of approach reading it in the first place."

But instead of the challenge stopping her, she pushed herself to understand it better. She said it particularly piqued her interest at the time with self-government negotiations coming up.

With no programs that touched this topic when she arrived in university, she set out to find a way to make this part of her future career.

For her recent paper, Brown spoke to people that were part of the modern Treaty Negotiations, implementation or worked on treaty education.

From those conversations, she said she realized the importance of relationships as being part of a way to understand the perspectives in the agreements.

"So, the title of my paper, called reconnecting to our relations, the first part of it, I think, for me, it really speaks to that relationship piece, and being able to talk to people and not just forge those relationships, but also hear the stories from across the N.W.T. and people's perspective, and point of views on these matters, too."

Vivien Carli, the program director of the Gordon Foundation which runs the fellowship, said the work the fellows do can have lasting impacts on their communities. Most of the earlier cohorts, she added are now in leadership roles. And, many previous cohorts have been starting to see others pick up some of their work, Carli said.

"A lot of them, this was work that was really near and dear to their heart, either in their community or their workplace," Carli said.

"For a lot of them, the recommendations were taken up by their community or their organization, and sometimes within the government."

A passion for treaty education

Outside of her research, Brown is also one of three co-founders of Treaty Talks NWT, alongside Peter Greenland, and Jacey Firth-Hagen. They are youth from the Northwest Territories who are interested in treaty education.

"We also really want to be able to have discussions about treaties prior to these agreements. So treaties that were among Indigenous nations, and illuminating oral histories and all sorts of things," she said.

While it's geared toward youth, she said the group is "very much" open to having anyone join them.

With files from Loren McGinnis