NDP leader Jagmeet Singh met with Tlicho leaders on July 19 and with the Dene Nation at the Wiliideh site along the Yellowknife River on July 20.

He said he came away with “a sense of challenges” that they are facing, but also that Indigenous groups are prepared to overcome adversity.

“The chiefs, and the Elders, and the youth that spoke at the (Dene National) Assembly outlined some of those challenges. But there was this real sense of optimism, and beyond the resilience of having gone through genocide, communities that have suffered from language, indentity and sense of self-being stolen and purposefully eradicated to eradicate the people — the resilience and the optimism, that flowed even beyond the resilience — which to me, was really inspirational. And the fact that there were so many Dene speakers that I had to listen through an earpiece to translators, to me, gave me so much hope. Because we know so many cases where language has been stolen and people are trying to reclaim and relearn, but there were so many languages there! And that, to me, is just an incredible sign of hope for the future,” Singh said.

“There was a young woman who spoke about a path forward, and she was talking about going beyond reclaiming language, and she was speaking fluently in her own dialect — and her chief ceded his time to allow her to speak. In doing that, a couple things happened: the chiefs’ vision of wanting to give space to youth and to a young woman, in particular, I thought was very powerful. And (it) spoke in a way that that was not seen in any way as odd or different, it was very welcomed by the circle, by the leadership there. (It) speaks to a type of forward thinking, and bold vision for the future where we want to see young people at the table, and young women at the table.

“And then the vision that she outlined was one where the Dene Nation does not just reclaim language, but way of life and practices, and then, on top of that, which was something that was shared by many speakers — and I’m summarizing in my own words — there is an opportunity for not just land claims agreements and treaty rights… to fight for important rights, but for a future of shared economic prosperity, where Indigenous people benefit from any project or any development in a way that it actually goes to communities. Which, in fact, is better for relations with settlers as well, because a project will move forward if communities are empowered and treated as partners, are worked with as nation to nations. The project will move ahead, be in-line with environmental needs, and it will be something that communities can support with shared prosperity, so both Indigenous communities will benefit, as well as any settlers, or companies, or the broader communities that they partner with.

So, I think that was a vision I really believe in, there needs to be shared economic prosperity, and because it’s good for everyone involved — just seeing the power of leadership coming together, supporting youth, gave me a lot of hope for our future where we can come together, and see what nation-to-nation negotiations can bring.”

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