Pehdzeh Ki First Nation threatens to block GNWT fibre optic line

The Pehdzeh Ki First Nation in Wrigley, N.W.T., says it will not allow a fibre optic line through its traditional territory until the territorial government returns to the bargaining table on the Dehcho land claim.

Action is in response to broken-down Dehcho land claim negotiations, says Wrigley chief

Pehdzeh Ki First Nation chief Tim Lennie says the GNWT will not run a fibre optic line through their traditional territory until the Dehcho land claim impasse is resolved. (File photo)

The Pehdzeh Ki First Nation has threatened to block the Government of Northwest Territories' installation of a fibre optic line through their community of Wrigley, N.W.T., as a response to GNWT "bully tactics" during land claim negotiations.

"We will not be able to accommodate nor support this project crossing over asserted traditional lands till such time the GNWT resolves the impasse with the Dehcho First Nations," says Pehdzeh Ki First Nation Chief Tim Lennie. 

"I'm very disappointed in the government's inability to adequately deal with our land rights issues. We've been given a take it or leave it offer from the government that we do not support."

Ledcor, the company that is building the fibre optic line for the territorial government, says the installation of the portion of the line running from McGill Lake to Wrigley isn't planned to start until July. 

When asked what will happen when the fibre optic team arrives in the community, Lennie said, "They're just not welcome.

"If they want to continue to come and push their fibre optics links, we'll see what happens."

Last week, Dehcho First Nations Grand Chief Herb Norwegian called the territorial government's negotiations with the First Nations an "ultimatum."

The territorial government offered the Dehcho First Nations 37,000 square kilometres of their traditional territory, with only surface rights, as well as royalties of about 18 per cent on the land. The Dehcho are asking for 50,000 square kilometres of land, with surface and subsurface rights.

In a letter to the Dehcho, the territorial government said that's as flexible as it can be, and if that offer isn't good enough, then both parties should "acknowledge that negotiations have failed."

The Dehcho Process, which is the name of the ongoing land claim negotiations, has been going on since 2001. In 2012, the Pehdzeh Ki walked away from the negotiations, stating that nothing had happened since day one of the process.

In January of this year, the territorial government began work on an $82 million fibre optic cable, designed to bring high speed Internet to communities across the N.W.T. The proposed route for the line, which will measure between 1,100 and 1,200 kilometres and run along the Mackenzie Valley all the way to the Arctic Ocean, goes through Wrigley.

Lennie has written a letter to the government indicating the fibre optic project will not proceed, and Pehdzeh Ki representatives have told Government of the Northwest Territories employees they are no longer welcome in the First Nation's traditional territory.

"Devolution seems to be a mistake," says Lennie. "The GNWT is drunk with power. They need to adjust their views and recognize that the Dehcho Dene are the owners of our land. We are prepared to negotiate a fair agreement with them, but these bully tactics make it very difficult to see a way forward other than through the courts."

In an emailed statement, the Government of the Northwest Territories says it "does not feel that allegations exchanged in the media is serving the people of the Dehcho well.​

"We have made a generous offer to the DFN that is consistent with previously settled claims throughout the N.W.T. and encourage them to consider it. Details of that offer have been made public in the interests of clearing up confusion and misinformation about the GNWT offer, but we believe that negotiations should be conducted in a forum specifically intended for that purpose.​"

Ledcor, the company constructing the fibre optic line, says the cable build won't be in the Wrigley area for months. This summer's installation work is slated to start at McGill Lake and end at Wrigley, with work beginning in July.


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