With the Akaitcho land claim close to completion, its Yellowknives Dene negotiator worries how the upcoming federal and territorial elections will affect the process.
“We don’t know who will win this federal election but what we do know is that Conservative governments have held us up for many years and hijacked our negotiations,” said Fred Sangris.
Yanik D’Aigle, Conservative candidate for the NWT federal riding, says they are committed to reconciliation.
“Canada is one of only a few countries in the world where Indigenous and treaty rights are entrenched in its Constitution,” stated D’Aigle.
“The Conservative Party supports the process of reconciliation with Canada’s Indigenous peoples. Conservatives also support the negotiation of modern treaties since they help clarify rights and build positive relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities.”
Sangris said the Liberals have been more open-minded and want to work on reconciliation and advancing the settlement process.
Now he and members of the Yellowknives Dene First Nation (YKDFN), which are part of the Akaitcho Process, represented by the Yellowknives in Ndilo and Dettah, are also keeping an even closer eye on the upcoming territorial election.
“It’s going to be key for Akaitcho, especially in the Tu Nedeh Wiilideh now that Tom Beaulieu is not going to run,” said Sangris.
Sangris says the Akaitcho people thank Beaulieu for his hard work and dedication to advancing the process and being easy to approach.
Beaulieu announced in May that he would not be seeking re-election.
In order to properly advance and complete the settlement, a newly elected MLA must have political experience and strength, said Sangris.
“We need a former chief,” said Sangris. “All the Akaitcho negotiations have involved former chiefs and I think former chiefs need to be called up and do that work. This is a great political arena and Akaitcho needs a big push, we have to have the right person there.”
He said it will take a lot of walking door to door and connecting with constituents and standing up for the process in order to get an agreement-in-principle completed without delays.
Four candidates to have announced their intentions to run in the Tu Nedhe Wiilideh district thus far: Fort Resolution resident Nadine Delorme, former RCMP officer Steve Norn, former Yellowknives Dene First Nation band councillor and Det’on Cho manager Paul Betsina and consultant and business-owner Lila Erasmus.
The negotiating communities consist of Dettah/Ndilo (which would be brought under the same jurisdiction under the agreement), Lutsel K’e and Fort Resolution. These also communities make up the constituency of Tu Nedhe Wiilideh.
The Akaitcho agreement is based upon the original 1900 Treaty 8 agreement struck in Fort Resolution.
“In 2009 a representative from the (United Nations) did a treaty study and found our treaty was valid. So having UN recognition helped us big time to get into negotiations with Canada,” said Sangris.
“Let’s just say we’re trying to implement the actual agreement. We want a good relationship with Canada.”
After 19 years of negotiations and 40 years of work to try and ratify this agreement, the YKDFN are now almost at the point of reaching an agreement in principle with the Canadian government.
“This is the final hurdle,” said Sangris. “We’ve been working too long and too hard for this to be held up now. It’s like swimming across the river, and climbing over the mountain and we’re almost at the other side.”
Currently there are nearly 3,000 YKDFN members reviewing the Akaitcho agreement to ensure it meets the needs of the community, said Sangris.