Three Gwich’in communities resolved to take a community-driven approach to self-government negotiations at the Gwich’in Tribal Council’s (GTC) special assembly on self-government in Aklavik last week.
Aklavik’s Ehdiitat Gwich’in Council, Fort McPherson’s Tetlit Gwich’in Council and Tsiigehtchic’s Gwichya Gwich’in Council will now participate as equal parties in ongoing self-government agreements, according to GTC deputy chief Jordan Peterson.
“Over the year we’ve been working with the communities and DGOs to bring forward some recommendations to the special assembly. The recommendation was, and the resolution that was passed was, that self-government will be community-driven and authority lies with the designated Gwich’in organizations,” said Peterson. “The authority for self-government negotiations lies with the designated Gwich’in organizations … It will be a community-driven process. Whatever they want to delegate to GTC is what they will delegate to GTC.”
Peterson said this means that self-government negotiations will now have a bottom-up approach instead, with GTC as a collaborator.
“It comes down to ensuring that we are taking a collaborative team approach instead of it being top-down, now we’re all moving forward together,” he said. “It is a regional process, meaning that it is driven by the communities in collaboration with GTC. It is not that we are pursuing a specifically regional self-government, but it will be self-government agreements for each of those communities.”
The decision to hold a special assembly came out of last year’s GTC annual general assembly.
As a result, an ad hoc working group made up of band chiefs, Gwich’in council presidents and Peterson was formed.
Peterson said when GTC talks about self-government, there are two parts to it.
“There has to be recognition that we were self-governing before contact, we were organized, we had always governed ourselves, so there is that inherent right to self-government,” he said.
“The other aspect is the programs and services that come with self-government, such as education, marriage and social programs.”
Peterson said pending the receipt of funding from the Government of Canada, each of the three community Gwich’in organizations will form their own negotiation teams.
He said one of the main issues in self-government negotiations has been that communities haven’t been funded appropriately to be involved at the table, and GTC is calling on the federal government to ensure that adequate funding is available to ensure the participation of all Gwich’in organizations.
“A strong self-government won’t be strong unless the communities are strong and they’re driving the process,” he said. “It is important to recognize and understand that this process needs to be driven by the designated Gwich’in organizations.”
Peterson added that the self-government assembly has received support from previous leaders who helped negotiate Gwich’in land claims – an important piece in moving forward with negotiations.
“Having people like Richard Nerysoo and James Firth and other people around the table, their support for this moving forward is really integral,” he said.
Inuvik’s Nihtat Gwich’in Council (NGC) announced it would be pursuing its own self-government negotiations last year.
“While the GTC assembly is not the decision maker when it comes to our position on self government, we were happy that the GTC and the delegates at the assembly respected and supported our decision. In the spirit of working together and unity, we felt it was important to get that support,” said Jozef Carnogursky, NGC president, in a statement. “The next steps for the Nihtat Gwich’in and Inuvik Native Band is to formally get a process, schedule and funding agreement with Government to start negotiations.”
Peterson said the assembly respects NGC’s decision to pursue its own process.
“That authority lies with them,” said Peterson. “We all agreed, including the Nihtat, that the door will always be open for them to come and participate in the regional process.”