Friends, the novelty of self-government is a perfect example of how colonialism really works.

The teacher has left the room, so someone from the class is now in charge.

To properly understand the process one go-to person is the Cree lawyer, Sharon Venne.
When you go back far enough, we of the First Nations pretty well all started out on the same footing.

Norman Yakeleya, centre, was initiated as national chief of the Dene Nation at the 48th Dene National Assembly in Hay River in late August, 2018. He’s pictured with Bill Erasmus, left, outgoing national chief of the Dene Nation and Francois Paulette, right, elder from Smith’s Landing First Nation. Columnist Antoine Mountain argues that the evolution of self-government in the NWT remains little more than another exercise in colonialism.
NNSL file photo

We were each enticed into treaties, in our Northern cases, 8 and 11, to basically give government access to our lands and resources.

All the rest, ‘for as long as the sun shines and the rivers flow’, icing, to make it happen.
These so-called “legal” documents were signed with the English Crown and still remain as such, contracts between sovereign nations.

The nation state of Canada is still basically a bystander.

In the North the government of the NWT also found ways to get involved in anything to do with Dene lands.

People like Sharon Venne can follow the exact same process, how the provinces ended up dealing directly with Ottawa, bypassing Indians on reserves, in the matter of funding.

Our original political struggles, with the Indian Brotherhood of the NWT did gain some ground, enough anyway to stop the original pipeline idea.

But to this day the Dene Nation has yet to even consider getting back our rights to health and education, the real original struggle.

One person who gets the real standing of the Dene Nation more than anyone else is former premier, Stephen Kakfwi.

He sees that one former political organization more as a secretariat, basically there to meet once a year, but really, to just take and compare notes with other groups, no more. To make it look good, a deal with GNWT now and then.

Throughout all of this, the age-old and proven tactic of divide and conquer has served every change in government to set aside Indigenous rights, simply to get at more and more of our lands.

We in Radelie Koe, Fort Good Hope, learned this only too well last summer, trying to save the best of our moose-hunting grounds, in the Tuyeta Region.

Even with our land settlement, going back almost forty years now, we learned that even though these lands still fall within our land settlement, the government still got to decide who can go in there, for mining, gas, oil, whatever.

We were lucky enough for a majority of our people who just wanted to keep the Ramparts River the way it is.

Whenever people bring up the subject of self-government, I always have more questions than even suggestions.

The only ones who are trying to talk self-government, the Deh Cho and Akaitcho, are not being allowed to do so. Instead it’s called “negotiations,” with time always on the side of Ottawa.

What has happened is that the regions and communities who have already given up all the best they had end up running what the GNWT is supposed to do anyway, municipal services.

The land itself is beyond the reach of the People, and still handled by government.
It all comes down to the lands. Whose lands are these and who has the right to speak for them?

Mahsi, thank you.

Antoine Mountain

Antoine Mountain is a Dene artist and writer originally from Radilih Koe/Fort Good Hope. He can be reached at

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