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Dene Nation critical of proposed Forest Act

The GNWT's proposed Forest Act undermines land claims, self government and inherent treaty rights, said the Dene Nation in a March 1 news release.

The proposed Forest Act will modernize the existing Forest Management Act and Forest Protection Act. Avery Zingel/NNSL photo

The Dene Nation criticized the conduct of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (ENR) in drafting the act, which combines two existing pieces of legislation: the Forest Management Act and the Forest Protection Act.

In the release, Dehcho First Nation Grand Chief Gladys Norwegian said the territorial government did not consult with all the Dene Nation's member nations while preparing the proposed legislation.

She characterized this as a “deliberate tactic to divide Indigenous governments."

According to the government's website, the new act will legislate management of non-timber forest products like biomass, require the industry to prepare fire prevention plans and update regulations for fees, charges, fines and offences.

The release states Sahtu Grand Chief Wilfred McNeely, Dene National Chief Norman Yakelaya and Akaitcho representative Ed Sangris oppose the draft legislation.

Sangris argues the bill should be pulled because of a lack of support, similar to the withdrawal of the Wildlife Act in the 16th Assembly, to give the GNWT and Indigenous Governments an opportunity to work out disagreement and reintroduce the legislation in the 17th Assembly.

In a separate release on March 5, the Tlicho Government stated that they disagree with the Dene Nation's criticisms.

“The Tlicho Government speaks for the Tlicho,” states the release.

The Tlicho Government said it was “actively involved” in the development and drafting of the bill and while it has “serious concerns” with the proposed act, it disagrees with the Dene Nation's criticism that the process, “treated Dene 'as if their land claims did not exist.'"

Tlicho Grand Chief George Mackenzie stated his government is committed to working with the GNWT through the committee process on areas that need improvement but that the Dene Nation release “does not accurately reflect (Tlicho) experience working with the GNWT.”

The Tlicho have been actively involved in the development of the Mineral Resources Act, the Protected Areas Act and the Forest Act in accordance with the Intergovernmental Agreement, states the release.

“If it proves necessary to oppose the Forest Act, Tlicho Government will take those steps it deems appropriate,” it continues.

Legislation drafted using lessons from Wildlife Act

The Forest Act was developed through a partnership with the Technical Working Group made up of Indigenous governments and organizations with input from non-governmental organizations, regulatory boards and industry representatives.

The drafting and engagement period took more than two years, said ENR department spokesperson Meagan Wohlberg.

The partnership approach was developed to “reduce the potential for conflict or duplication” and was modeled using the process for development of the Wildlife Act.

The GNWT will release its summary results of engagement with the working group to highlight how their concerns were integrated into the draft legislation, said Wohlberg.

“The GNWT is confident that the revised bill reflects and addresses the concerns raised by the (working group), Indigenous governments and organizations, and stakeholders through the extensive engagement and consultation process over the past two years, and that they will see their contributions reflected in the bill,” she said.

The draft bill “explicitly recognizes and affirms” Aboriginal and treaty rights, including commitments of land claim and self-government agreements, said Wohlberg.

The working group included all members of the Intergovernment Council, the North Slave Métis Alliance, Dehcho First Nations, Akaitcho Territorial Government and NWT renewable resource boards.

The Dene Nation stated there is “strong and unanimous protest” among all governments within Dene Nation. Governments that make up the working group include K’atl’odeeche First Nation, Tłįchǫ Government, Inuvialuit Regional Corporation, Gwich’in Tribal Council, Sahtu Secretariat Inc., Délı̨nę Got’ı̨nę Government, Salt River First Nation, Acho Dene Koe First Nation, Deninu Kue First Nation and Northwest Territories Métis Nation.

Beyond partnership, the GNWT engaged in a formal consultation with Indigenous governments and conducted an external public review process for the proposed act.

After second reading, the proposed Forest Act will be subject to a maximum 120 day review period by a standing committee, where concerned parties can provide additional input on the proposed legislation.