Tsiigehtchic’s Gwichya Gwich’in Council say they are sending requests to both the GNWT and the federal government to enter self-government negotiations.
The announcement follows an Oct. 5 Gwich’in Tribal Council (GTC) board of directors meeting which suspended the Gwichya Gwich’in Council’s (GGC’s) interim President Mavis Clark as a board director. The press release also accuses GTC Grand Chief Ken Kyikavichik of “showing contempt” for denying the Gwich’in council a seat at the GTC’s self-government negotiation table.
Speaking to Inuvik Drum, Clark said the GTC had left the GGC out of self-government negotiations because they submitted feedback to the grand chief’s initial proposal for what to put on the table.
“The grand chief is the negotiator for the Gwich’in self-government team, and it’s the four communities that are negotiating this,” said Clark. “He sent out a Power Point presentation and said this is what he’s going to be bringing to the main table, and our negotiator made a little bit of changes and sent it back.
“He said we shouldn’t be making changes to his presentations, that this isn’t the way it works and that his presentation would stand at the main table. And the next thing we’re blocked — he sent out invites on who is going to main table session in Edmonton and I didn’t see our name on the itinerary list for who is supposed to be attending. I phoned and asked what was going on and he said we were blocked from the main table sessions because of our negative attitude.
“Just recently, we weren’t invited to the main table sessions in Ottawa. He said until ‘these serious issues’ are dealt with, but to date he’s never called our office or tried to come into Tsiigehtchic and sit down with us and have a meeting. How are we supposed to deal with these conflict issues if he’s not willing to sit down and discuss them?”
As Clark has been suspended from the Gwich’in Board of Directors, the Gwichya Gwich’in Council has appointed another council member to represent them at board meetings.
But after first having their feedback rejected and then finding themselves not allowed a seat at the table, Clark said the GGC have decided they’re better off negotiating on their own.
“We’re elected leaders to stand up for our community,” said Clark. “We’re a community that’s so unique. We don’t have social services. We don’t have income support. We don’t have a nurse. There’s lots of ‘we don’t haves.’ We’re isolated two, sometimes three, four times of the year, even with a ferry running, sometimes the water is high and they can’t come to our landing.
“There’s lots of unique situations in our small community that they don’t understand. They don’t live here, they don’t know what’s going on. We’re the ones that know what we need and should be negotiating self-government and sitting at the table for our community — and they’re not letting us do that.
“If they don’t want us at the table, we’ll do it ourselves. How are we being disrespectful by speaking up for our community?”
Tsiigehtchic is a community of close to 175 people.
‘Treated as kids’
Gwichya Gwich’in Council executive director Lawrence Norbert said the GTC has been overbearing toward the local government for some time. He noted in his previous role as chief negotiator for the GGC, he went to present to the grade 7, 8 and 9 classes at Chief Paul Niditchie School on how self-government negotiations work and to encourage the students to complete their education.
Following the presentation, the class sent him nine questions to ask the grand chief on their behalf, four which he said he sent to the grand chief for clarification.
“He did not like the fact I went ahead and did a school presentation without his approval,” said Norbert. “I was appointed by council to advocate on their behalf and negotiate a self-government agreement, but also part of that is to do community outreach and that includes the school.
“We were just flabbergasted. We can’t even make a school presentation. I couldn’t believe it. It was really disconcerting. We just can’t ask questions without being treated as kids.”
Norbert said he felt the GTC was mistaking dissent with disloyalty.
He added he specifically expressed his concerns during a GGC meeting in August, where he said, “As the former GGC negotiator, I am asking who made the decision to prohibit the attendance of the GGC negotiator from the July 2022 main table session in Edmonton? Who made the decision to replace the Gwichya Gwich’in negotiator with the chief executive office of the GTC, a non-Gwich’in with no constituents to report to? Were the grounds for such a prohibition supported by the Gwich’in Negotiations Team and/or GTC board? Was written notice provided to the GGC Council and/or negotiator prior to the July session in order to make a response; and what justification — let alone authority — does he have for withholding main table documents for preparation on our part?”
According to Gwich’in Tribal Council Bylaw No. 1, ” (a) any director: (i) whose conduct is considered to be detrimental to the interests, reputation, or objects of the tribal council, or is not in good standing, or (ii) misses three (3) consecutive meetings of the board without a valid reason provided to the board, where such meetings are held with notice provided in accordance with this bylaw; may be suspended from the board by an ordinary resolution of the board.”
Clark noted she had missed the Gwich’in National Assembly in August due to medical travel, but had not missed any board meetings that she was aware of.
Instead, she said she was being disciplined for speaking out against a bootlegger in town.
“I posted on my personal Facebook page,” she said. “I called a local bootlegger out and he called the GTC and said I wasn’t supposed to be slandering him because I was a board director. So they had a talking to me.
“All our social issues are coming from bootleggers. As a leader, I should be able to speak and say ‘Look, this has to stop’ — I didn’t use those words, I said stronger words. But they said I wasn’t supposed to be doing that on Facebook.”
Gwichya Gwich’in Council is not the first Designated Gwich’in Organization to explore self-government negotiations. The previous Nihtat Gwich’in Council administration was also pursuing a similar file that also included a merger with the Inuvik Native Band, but have not continued following a change in leadership.
All four DGOs are currently undergoing a forensic audit, which is expected to be completed later this year.
Inuvik Drum has reached out to the Gwich’in Tribal Council for comment.