The Chiefs of Akaitcho Treaty 8 (Deninu Kue, Dettah, Lutsel K’e and Ndilo), Elders and representatives met on Thursday the 25th of November 1999 with Indian and Northern Affairs Minister Robert Nault in Ottawa to discuss a number of issues related to the implementation of Treaty 8. At the end of two and a half hours, the main issues remain largely unresolved.
One of the major issues that needed immediate attention relates to the boundary between Akaitcho Treaty 8 and the Dogrib Treaty 11. At present, the Dogrib Agreement-In-Principle (AIP) initialed by the federal, territorial council and the Dogrib negotiators on the 9th of August 1999 includes a settlement area that engulfs a large portion of Akaitcho Treaty 8 territory. In the present form, the Dogrib AIP includes all of the present federal government policy on comprehensive claims and violates their legal obligations to the Yellowknives Dene.
On the 18th of November 1999, the territorial council’ s cabinet gave their permission for the Minster of Aboriginal Affairs to sign the AIP. Akaitcho Treaty 8 is aware that the federal cabinet will be discussing and approving the Dogrib AIP on the 30th of November 1999. The Elders and members of the Yellowknife Dene are opposed to being included within the Dogrib AIP and have instructed the Chief and Council to pursue any action necessary to ensure that the Yellowknives territories protected.
The whole issue of the boundary needs to be dealt with prior to the signing of the Dogrib AIP. The Yellowknives Dene and Akaitcho Territory Chiefs have suggested that two amendments be inserted into the AIP prior to the federal minister signing the AIP. When this issue was raised with the Minister of Indian Affairs, he indicated that he is prepared to move forward and sign the Dogrib AIP on the 30th of November. The Minister would not consider the amendments suggested by the Yellowknives Dene.
As a result, the Akaitcho Treaty 8 Chiefs have no option but to take legal action against the Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs to prevent the Dogrib AIP from moving forward. At this time, the Akaitcho Peoples do not support the present Dogrib AIP as drafted, “We cannot support the Dogrib. The AIP as present drafted is violation of the Akaitcho Treaty 8 People’s right to lands and resources,” said Chief Richard Edjericon.
Over the years, there have been various attempts by Akaitcho Treaty 8 to deal with the issues in a fair and above board manner. Akaitcho Treaty 8 have been at the table with the federal government for twenty-eight (28) years trying to implement the spirit and intent of the Treaty 8. However, Akaitcho Treaty 8 have been stone walled by the federal government and the bureaucrats as they attempted to push Akaitcho Treaty 8 towards a comprehensive land claim.
The Akaitcho Treaty 8 rejected the comprehensive land claim model in 1990 as the Akaitcho Peoples did not want to extinguish our treaty and land rights. On May 14, 1992, in Dettah at a special assembly of the Treaty 8 membership, the leadership was directed to pursue a discussions with Canada based on Spirit and intent of Treaty 8. In September 1992, DIAND accepted and validated Treaty 8 as the basis for negotiations. Negotiations began on a Treaty land Entitlement (TLE). However, the process was flawed. Canada wanted to give Akaitcho Peoples a limited amount of land and some cash compensation. The Akaitcho Peoples could not accept the officer from Canada since it would be a clear violation of their understanding of their Treaty. So, the Chiefs tried another approach when Ron Irwin became Minister and called for proposals to settle outstanding Treaty issues with Canada.
At that time, the Chiefs suggested a means to settle outstanding through a process called co-existence. For the Akaitcho Peoples, co-existence is an implementation of the Treaty. The settlers and the Dene would live side by side the resources of the Dene. However, after two and a half years of trying to get a framework agreement together, there is still no resolution.
“If a framework is a walk in the garden, as suggested to Akaitcho Treaty 8, we are walking in a boulder ridden path. The boulders are placed by the federal government who does not want to discuss and implement our treaty. There is constant reference to policies of the state. We did not create the policies. We made a treaty. Canada has a legal obligation to implement the Treaty. We are not responsible for the programs of the state. In the past, Akaitcho Treaty 8 has attempted to understand the federal position and work with it. However, Canada has made no attempt to change their approach to Akaitcho and continues to push us towards a comprehensive policy which is not our mandate.” said Chief Felix Lockhart of Lutsel K’e.
At the meeting, the Minister said that he would review the position of the territorial council as a third party to the negotiations. The Akaitcho Treaty 8 Chiefs have always maintained that the talks have to be between Canada and Akaitcho since the issues to outstanding Treaty matter need to be dealt with in a bilateral basis. After the discussions with Canada are proceeding, then the two parties could decide to add another party. At this point, it would be premature and not in dealing with the spirit and intent of the Treaty.
At the end of the day, Akaitcho Treaty 8 still have their treaty. They have been waiting for one hundred years for Canada to implement the Treaty. Akaitcho has been talking with Canada for twenty-eight years without any resolution. The land is still there and we will take all measures necessary to protect our lands despite the Minster’s refusal to impose a moratorium on the area and not issue permits and licencses without our consent. We have an obligation to the future generations to protect the land for them.