Three land claim organizations in Tulita, N.W.T., have “unanimously” decided to end self-government negotiations with the federal government, according to the leader of one of the parties involved.
Richard Hardy, president of the Fort Norman Métis Community, announced the decision Wednesday at the Sahtu Assembly taking place in Fort Good Hope.
He said the decision was made after the federal government failed to make changes to a 2017 agreement-in-principle to protect the historical treaty rights of status Indians.
“There’s no need to surrender any more rights to have a self-government agreement,” said Hardy. “The self-government agreement has already been paid for time and time again, and we paid a high price for it. So no more surrenders of any rights, period.”
At issue are clauses in the agreement-in-principle that Hardy says would remove the tax benefits of status Indians included under the agreement and force the dissolution of the Tulita Band.
“We’re not going to negotiate until we get these changes,” said Hardy, “and if that means that there’s never going to be a self-government agreement, then there never will be a self-government agreement.”
Talks ongoing for over two decades
Self-government in Tulita has already been long in coming.
In 1993, the Sahtu Dene and Métis Comprehensive Land Claim Agreement established the pathway to self-government for communities in the Sahtu region of the N.W.T.
Ten years later, the Dene and Métis of Tulita began negotiations with the federal government on their own self-government agreement.
A final agreement would create the Tulita Yamoria Government, an Indigenous government with the ability to collect taxes and administer services.
Since 2003, the Tulita Yamoria Community Secretariat has engaged in negotiations on behalf of three organizations subject to the new agreement: the Fort Norman Métis Community, the Tulita Band, and the Tulita Land Corporation.
The leaders of all three organizations must sign the agreement-in-principle for it to proceed to a final agreement. Hardy says after a “unanimous decision” by membership in July, all refused to sign.
In the past, when negotiations with one party have failed, the federal government has tried to seek agreements by other means.
It was the failure of a 1988 agreement-in-principle for a comprehensive land claim that led to the 1993 Sahtu Dene-Métis Comprehensive Land Claim Agreement.
When the parties disagreed over protecting the rights secured in historical treaties, the federal government ended negotiations with the Dene Nation and approached regional governments.
Hardy says he doesn’t expect that to work this time.
“It’s possible that the government, being as crooked as it is, could go and say, okay, we’re going to go negotiate with just the band,” he said, “but I would be shocked if that happened …. We’re pretty close together.”
With federal and territorial elections on the way, Hardy says he doesn’t expect the impasse to be resolved quickly.
“I don’t expect any answers in the short term,” he said.
Indigenous Services Canada, which handles negotiations for the federal government, did not reply to requests for comment by deadline.
The territorial Department of Executive and Indigenous Affairs, also party to the negotiations, said as of Wednesday they had “not been formally advised of any decision by the land claim organizations,” and so could not comment.
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