The Mackenzie Valley Environmental Impact Review Board (MVEIRB) was established in 1998. Currently there are only three appointed board members representing the three Indigenous governments who have completed land claim settlements which leaves room for much more Indigenous representation at the board level being that the five regions in the NWT have 33 communities comprised of a majority of Indigenous peoples.
Out of these 33 communities there are seven regional Indigenous governments, four of which have signed onto devolution. Devolution is a deal that the federal government and the government of the NWT (GNWT) made in 2014 to take over land and resource responsibilities. The First Nations that did not sign onto devolution are of the view that their treaty is with the Crown and not the territorial government and that the federal government has a fiduciary duty that cannot and should not be transferred over to the territory.
The concept of MVEIRB began when the Indian Brotherhood (now known as the Dene Nation) was formed to stop the proposed Mackenzie Valley pipeline in the 1970s in what is known as the Berger inquiry. Justice Berger set up an inquiry to hear what the Dene had to say when it came to the concerns they had about the potential impacts a proposed pipeline would have on the environment. Ultimately, the decision to stop the pipeline was made based on the response of the Dene people across the north thus solidifying the fact that Indigenous peoples are the gatekeepers of the environment in the north.
Shortly after the decision to stop the pipeline was made, many Indigenous groups in the NWT started to negotiate new land claims to protect Indigenous “traditional lifestyle, culture and spirituality” and this turned into the establishment of MVEIRB whereby MVIERB would review and either accept or deny profitable project proposals so that projects like the pipeline would not have the chance to go through if they were damaging to the environment.
This was a great idea, however, there has since developed a problem within MVIERB’s framework. It seems as though Indigenous governments within the Mackenzie Valley who have not yet completed land claims agreements for self-government and or who have not signed onto devolution are not being invited at the board level as decision makers. Yet at the time of the Berger inquiry there was no differentiation between where an Indigenous person was from in the North, everyone had an equal say, and that is how it still should be.
Its these governmental political issues that are preventing all Indigenous governments in the NWT from participating in the process equally. It shouldn’t be as inaccessible as it currently is to navigate the system. Individual members of Indigenous nations should be able to have their voices heard when they are concerned about development that has the potential to harm the land and water and not have to navigate the difficult MVIERB system.
What stemmed from the Indian Brotherhood as a way to protect the environment has turned into a political playing field that in my opinion provides an avenue for prospective developers and governments to partner in the establishment of monetary gain on Indigenous lands without Indigenous peoples having much of a say at the beginning stages of the decision-making process.
It is essential to have all Indigenous governments at the MVEIRB board level regardless of whether or not they have signed onto devolution or a modern treaty agreement because there is much work to be done in the North especially when it comes to protecting the environment.
For this reason alone, it would be ideal to see another “Berger inquiry” set up across the North where every Indigenous person who has something to say can participate, not just those who are delegated by the First Nation or who are paid to attend. A new type of Berger inquiry that seeks Indigenous peoples recommendations on how to reduce greenhouse gasses in the North, and one that doesn’t just listening and put the words on a dusty shelf but one that puts those recommendations into quick action. It’s time to bring the Indian Brotherhood back in its original form by way of freedom of speech without government division.