Grand Chief, elders, community leaders, ladies and gentlemen, thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today. It is a pleasure to be back in Jean Marie River and to see many familiar faces.
There have been a few changes since the last Dehcho First Nations Annual General Assembly.
A new Liberal government was elected in Ottawa and my brother Michael was elected to represent the Northwest Territories as part of that government. This is the first time in many years that the NWT has been represented by a Member of Parliament that sits on the government side.
A new territorial government has also been elected since your last Annual General Assembly.
I was honoured when Members of the Legislative Assembly chose me to lead them as the first two-term Premier of the NWT.
Relationships between the GNWT and Aboriginal governments were an important topic for Members when we met to discuss priorities after the election last year.
Collaborating and fostering government-to-government relationships with Aboriginal governments was one of the priorities that Members of the Legislative Assembly agreed to.
Members also agreed that advancing, finalizing and implementing land, resources and self-government agreements would be a priority for the 18th Assembly.
Nationally, Prime Minister Trudeau and Minister of Indigenous Affairs Carolyn Bennett have talked many times about the need for reconciliation with Canada’s Aboriginal people.
Here at home, I have publicly stated that I want to see remaining land claims settled during the life of the 18th Assembly.
Earlier this year, Grand Chief Norwegian talked to reporters about the recent changes at the federal and territorial levels:
“The whole political landscape has changed drastically,” the Grand Chief said. “The sun is shining on us. We have a Dehcho MP in Ottawa, we have a Dehcho premier in office, and we also have a Dehcho senator in Ottawa, so it means the Dehcho stars have lined up. Now is the time to move forward. We’re at a climactic point in our time here to start making inroads.”
The Grand Chief is right. There is a new will and a new opportunity to make history here in the Dehcho.
I’ve met with the Grand Chief several times and spoken to Minister Bennett about how Canada, the Dehcho First Nations and the GNWT can work together to take advantage of this new opportunity.
One thing is clear to all of us: we need a new approach to conclude negotiations in the Dehcho.
We’ve gotten as far as we can get with the old approach and I don’t believe that a new offer based on that approach is what we need to get us over the finish line.
Today, the Governments of Canada and the Northwest Territories are announcing our intention to jointly appoint a Ministerial Special Representative to assist us in finalizing negotiations with the Dehcho.
The role of the Ministerial Special Advisor will be to meet with the Dehcho First Nations and each individual first nation, Métis nation and Dene band in the Dehcho and understand their views on the Dehcho Process.
Based on those discussions, the MSR will offer independent, objective advice to Minister Bennett and I on how close we might be to an Agreement-in-Principle and what the key elements of that AiP might be.
While the advice of the MSR will be important in determining how we can reach an agreement together, I want to be clear that the MSR is not a government negotiator and their discussions with you will not replace Dehcho Process negotiations or the main table.
This is the first time that an MSR will be appointed by both the federal and territorial governments and responsible for advising us both.
I am hopeful that with the assistance of the MSR we will be able to put together a workable package that fairly reflects the interests of the Dehcho First Nations and the Governments of Canada and the Northwest Territories.
I expect that package will address elements like land quantum, completing the Dehcho Land Use Plan, Dehcho share of Dene/Métis resource royalties from the Mackenzie Valley, Nahanni National Park, land selection criteria, Protected Areas Strategy (including Edéhzhie), modernizing interim measures agreements, interim land withdrawals to support identifying settlement lands, and settlement area boundaries to address remaining overlap with the Sahtu and NWT Métis Nation.
Like with any deal, there will probably be trade-offs involved around specific issues, but we shouldn’t let single issues drive us apart.
We will need to consider the whole package and not focus on individual parts. That is where advice from the Ministerial Special Representative will help us in making sure that we have the best package possible based on what he has heard from you.
Partnerships with Aboriginal governments will be essential to the future of the Northwest Territories and Canada. Our government’s commitment to building those partnerships can be seen in negotiations and agreements around the territory.
This September, the Deline Self-Government Agreement will come into effect. We are also closing in on self-government AIPs with the Gwich’in and the Sahtu Dene and Métis of Tulita and Norman Wells. Final agreement negotiations with Acho Dene Koe are underway and we are in final self-government negotiations with the Inuvialuit.
We very much want to add the Dehcho First Nations to this list of negotiations that are closing in on final agreements.
Finalizing an agreement would confirm and clarify the Aboriginal and treaty rights of the Dehcho First Nations and facilitate your taking your rightful place as a valued partner in governing the Northwest Territories.
The people of the Dehcho have been waiting a long time for an agreement. With a renewed commitment at the federal level from Prime Minister Trudeau, Minister Bennett and MP McLeod and from myself and the 18th Legislative Assembly, I believe this is the right time and look forward to taking advantage of it with you.