Dene National Chief Gerald Antoine is calling on the federal government to honour its legal obligations under treaties 8 and 11 by providing sufficient funds directly to Dene First Nations, not through a third party, such as the GNWT.

“The chiefs are responsible for their territories and their people and know best how to allocate the funding,” Antoine said during a Friday press conference held in Fort Simpson.

He’s in favour of the legislative assembly postponing the territorial election — originally scheduled for Oct. 3 — and passing emergency funding to supplement the response to wildfires affecting much of the southern NWT.

The safety and well-being of evacuees, who make up more than 60 per cent of the territory’s population, should be the top priority for all leaders, Antoine said.

Dene families need to be involved and consulted in the recovery process and they should be given the support and assistance they need, he added.

The Dene national chief emphasized that the Covid-19 experience showed a need for clear protocols spelled out among federal, territorial, and municipal governments. The roles and responsibilities must be understood and implemented for the safety and protection of Dene citizens, according to Antoine. Nonetheless, he said that Dene people go to their chief for leadership in times of emergency, not mayors or premiers.

“Our families have been disrupted and are in need,” he said. “They are spread all over Western Canada, scared, frustrated and unsure of what will happen next.”

Antoine stated that there are four basic necessities among all displaced families: accommodation, food, other essential needs and transportation. He said all parties need to work together to establish who is providing these things and how they can better coordinate themselves to be more effective and efficient.

Chief Kele Antoine of the Liidlii Kue First Nation echoed his sentiments and said that they need to focus on their families and communities.

The Dene national chief mentioned that he recently spoke to the Red Cross vice-president for Western and Northern Canada.

“There is a real need to make sure there are people on the ground there as contacts,” he said. “They also need a team approach as relying on one person will burn the person out. They need to be mindful that those people are also going through struggles so they can coordinate, organize themselves in an effective and efficient way and coordinate scheduling with each other so this can go on 24/7.”

Kaicheng Xin

Kaicheng Xin is a Multimedia Journalist with NNSL Media. You can reach him at

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