This is the second installment in a two-part review of a monumental discussion during the Dene National Assembly.

The next day, others spoke on the resolution after it had been presented to leadership in draft form.

Jim Antoine, of the Liidlii Kue First Nation and former NWT premier, said to leadership and listeners: “My position is that we’ve been negotiating with Deh Cho First Nations and the Government of Canada for 22 years and we’re slowly moving ahead, and we’re trying different ways of negotiating. But speaking to the motion, I came here because I thought it was a very powerful position our Elders took 50 years ago and the decision was made and it was appealed on a technicality, and we just left it.

“I think the decision back then was that ‘We’re going to go move ahead,’ and it didn’t work, so everybody more or less went on their own, and made their own arrangements — for the best way for yourselves,” Antoine added. “We recognize, acknowledge and respect that. But I know you’re not happy with some of those arrangements and the federal government is not acknowledging your arrangements.

“But this kind of a motion could help, I thought. We haven’t really fully explored the extent of what our treaties really mean, and the political climate has changed greatly from 50 years ago — Francois (Paulette) and them here, Smith’s Landing making their own arrangement, I know Salt River is doing the hard work the Gwich’in have made arrangements, the Sahtu, the Tlicho. Akaitcho, they say is pretty close to AIP (agreement in principle), and the Deh Cho, we’re more or less moving ahead. So everyone more or less split and is doing their own thing, but at the same time we’re still together.

“So I was wandering around these grounds and thinking about how many great things have happened. I thought this motion would enhance what we were doing, to make ourselves even stronger. I don’t think you should be afraid of it, I think there might be some fear here. But for myself, I thought this would just be an improvement, a strengthening, something that you could stand solidly on, so that we could all keep on pushing hard because we’ve got a long way to go. I know it’s a tense, and kind of hard place we’re at, but we shouldn’t be — I just hope things work out OK,” Antoine concluded.

Appeal to the United Nations

Recently, I asked my uncle, Ted Blondin, for his thoughts on the proposed resolution, without skipping a beat he said, “In 1967, the territorial government was established here in the Northwest Territories. The Government of Canada put a whole bunch of bureaucrats on a plane and shipped them up north, and built them a government building, put all the bureaucrats in that building and put up houses for them, and they ran the territorial government. And they imposed local governments in every community — they called them town and councils, hamlets, tax-based communities. Cities, towns, villages — and that kind of governance model was imposed on us. And at the same time, since 1921, since treaty was signed, the prime authority in each of the small communities was chief and council.

“In every community there was division between young people and old people,” he continued. “The young people would say, ‘We need to do things the way we need to do them,’ and the Elders would say, ‘We don’t understand them, and they don’t understand where we come from.’ So there was a big division.

“Land claims agreement is protected under Section 35 of the Constitution, so each of the regions want to make sure they’ve got that foot in the door and they’ve secured all their political, economic and social rights secured first and have that well established before all the regions come together to come up with a Dene Nation where all the many nations working together on one platform and make our appeal to the United Nations that much stronger,” said Blondin.

“Some of us are there at the regional level but some of us are not. Some of us need that time to get politically secure before we can take the next step to nationhood and make a plea to the United Nations. I think we all agree! That’s where we want to end up, but the time is not right at this time. We need time to develop. We need time to grow. We need time to strengthen.

“Once the regions get solid, there might not even be a need for territorial government. That’s why nationhood has to be solid, strong — all of us working together. That’s the time to start thinking approaches nationally and internationally. It’s not the right time to do that.”

“So the ones who say no, it’s just timing is not right — the stars are not lined up. We are a very, very patient group, and we have to pray for patience, for strength, to give us time to pull this all together, so when we do have that strength we can pull it all together.”

‘Like going to confession and getting absolved’

Lucy Jackson of Fort Good Hope spoke on the assembly’s third and final day

“This is for time immemorial, the original treaty. This is a standing order, does it need a motion? I don’t really know. But it’s a standing order on an international basis. A lot of changes have happened within the 50 years where we’re losing out. That’s what it’s all about to be here for me, because I came from that remote community. We’re a distance from the health centres. We’re a distance from all the services we should get but we don’t. I want to explain this poverty and the changes that have taken place over the years — modifying our international treaty from 1921, modifying our other Indigenous systems. That is unacceptable. We cannot agree with that. Reconciliation wouldn’t get us nothing, peoples, it’s like going to confession and getting absolved. Restitution, preconditions, restitution peoples.

“I’ve been in position for only one year… but I read documents after documents. And I hear the leaders saying it’s a hard job. Holy! Because we live in poverty, we can make the best rules, regulations for ourselves, but it’s easily breached by ourselves because we don’t have that money in our hands to pay up rents, and all the bills that we need to pay up. Our young peoples don’t have that income to move into a rental building because that rent base is $1,400 and you have to deposit the damage fees — you all know that.

“We’re not going to misuse our treaty and make mistakes. Holy! We’re generous peoples. We’ve helped the whole country with our resource capital. Non-renewable resource capital. We give it. We’re generous. We ‘OK’ everything — I see it every day in meetings. What’s wrong with voting against it?

“Even with our TK… traditional knowledge is priceless. I read a document this summer, this past summer on caribou mineral licks. Holy! I just about exploded. How did they get into all this information, which is Indigenous rights and inherent right, to protect our caribou?

“There have been massive changes within the last 50 years, not for the betterment for the Indigenous communities but for the wealth of other people, so we have to think straight on this.

“I go to the young peoples meetings. They want commodities, they want paved roads, which you guys don’t have to worry about. They want cafeteria. What’s wrong with that? It’s just a small thing but it’s hard to get…

“Our education is substandard. Modified grades – can you imagine that? Hey?

“So are we going to allow ourselves, or am I going to allow the younger peoples in my community — I can’t address the needs for you. But I’m addressing K’ahsho Got’ine — massive, massive land use by our ancient peoples. We walked the country. We didn’t have Ski-Doos, we walked the country. We travelled with our own little dog teams. I wouldn’t accept reconciliation. I wouldn’t accept modifying our treaty. Not other indigenous governing systems we had. It’s unacceptable for Canada to modify our rights,” said Jackson.

The resolution was tabled for the winter 2023 Dene leadership meetings.

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