Bob McLeod: Finalizing Aboriginal Rights Agreements in the NWT

February 24, 2016
Ministers' Statements and Speeches

Mr. Speaker, advancing, finalizing and implementing land, resources and self-government agreements is one of the key priorities of the 18th Legislative Assembly and one of my personal priorities.

The negotiation of Aboriginal rights agreements is underway in all regions of our Territory as Aboriginal peoples seek to clarify their rights over land, resources and governance. Completing these agreements will be the foundation for economic development and improved social conditions in the Northwest Territories. Confirming who has title to what land and eliminating uncertainty will increase opportunities for resource development in the Northwest Territories. Confirming self-government responsibilities will provide Aboriginal governments with greater ability to deliver programs and services in a manner that better serves their members.

Our Government has long been committed to working effectively with our federal and Aboriginal partners to finalize Aboriginal rights agreements. With several sets of negotiations having reached significant milestones during the 17th Legislative Assembly, we have witnessed firsthand how partners working together can achieve significant results. Those milestones include passing the Délįnę Final Self-government Agreement Act, concluding an Agreement-in-Principle on land and resources with the Acho Dene Koe First Nation, the Inuvialuit Self-government Agreement-in-Principle as well as the Northwest Territory Métis Nation Agreement-in-Principle on Land and Resources.

As we start the 18th Legislative Assembly, we are focussed on building on these successes, including settling the four remaining land claims with the Acho Dene Koe First Nation, Akaitcho Dene First Nations, Dehcho First Nations and the Northwest Territory Métis Nation. Settling these land claims will be an important factor in strengthening the Northwest Territories’ economy.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to report that discussions with Aboriginal leadership have been ongoing since the territorial election. Offers to meet were extended in the early days of the 18th Legislative Assembly and these efforts are now beginning to take shape.

Earlier this week I met with the Grand Chief of the Dehcho First Nations and this morning with the Chiefs of the Akaitcho Territory Government and I expect that meetings will be scheduled with the Northwest Territory Métis Nation and the Acho Dene Koe First Nation in the coming days. I look forward to collaborative discussions on outstanding negotiation matters. I am committed to listening to the priorities of the Aboriginal leadership and hearing their ideas on how to move negotiations forward. Informed by these discussions, I will be consulting with my Cabinet colleagues and a joint committee that will include Members of this Assembly to help guide negotiations. 

Mr. Speaker, finalizing these agreements will require flexibility from the GNWT and our partner governments, including the Government of Canada. Earlier this year I met with Indigenous and Northern Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett and was encouraged by her willingness to work in a collaborative way to settle land claims and help bring certainty to these regions and the Northwest Territories.

The GNWT is committed to doing its part to finalize these agreements as quickly as possible in a manner that is fair, balanced and continue to promote workable and affordable agreements that respect Aboriginal rights.

Mr. Speaker, the Northwest Territories leads the country in fostering partnerships between Aboriginal and public governments, due in part to our commitment to settling and implementing claims. Finalizing outstanding negotiations will underscore that, and I encourage all parties to the negotiations to be flexible and commit to working constructively and collaboratively towards reaching agreement. I believe that we have a renewed commitment from all sides to do what we can to resolve these agreements during the life of the 18th Legislative Assembly.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.