Dehcho First Nations to draft its own land code after decades of talks with federal, territorial gov'ts

·3 min read
Grand Chief of the Dehcho First Nations Kenneth Cayen says he hopes the land code will bring clarity to a longstanding issue. (Anna Desmarais/CBC - image credit)
Grand Chief of the Dehcho First Nations Kenneth Cayen says he hopes the land code will bring clarity to a longstanding issue. (Anna Desmarais/CBC - image credit)

Dehcho First Nations says it's tired of waiting for the federal and territorial governments to recognize the Dehcho people's authority over their land and resources — so it's creating its own rules laying out how they can be used.

Over the coming months, Dehcho First Nations (DFN) says it will draft a land code to govern all aspects of land and resource management in its territory.

DFN is a tribal council consisting of eight Dene First Nation communities and two Métis communities. Their territory covers approximately 250,000 square kilometres across the Northwest Territories and extends into Yukon and British Columbia.

Dehcho First Nations
Dehcho First Nations

Once the code is implemented, "DFN will request that Canada and the [government of the Northwest Territories] acknowledge their jurisdiction over the lands and resources of their Territory and acknowledge that the Dehcho Land Code is paramount over any federal or territorial legislation," read a Dec. 6 news release from DFN.

Negotiating a land claim agreement with the federal and territorial governments began in 1999 and has stalled over the decades.

"In the absence of an agreement recognizing the authority of the Dehcho First Nations over their lands, the [government of the Northwest Territories] has claimed this authority and has acted as if it has jurisdiction to manage Dehcho lands and resources, against the strenuous objections of the DFN. This has led to further confusion and tension in the region," read the release.

'The land belongs to us'

In an interview with CBC's Trail's End, Grand Chief of the Dehcho First Nations Kenneth Cayen said there's a fundamental disagreement about the First Nations' control of their lands.

"We already knew that the land belongs to us so it was confusing for our Elders to have to be put in this position that they have to negotiate their own land," he said.

"I hope to bring clarity to all that."

As part of the process to develop the land code, DFN says it will consult with stakeholders, including the federal and territorial governments.

Once a draft is completed, public consultations will be held before it will be submitted to a Dehcho Assembly for ratification.

Territory, federal governments stay mum on the idea

In an email to CBC News, Todd Sasaki, a spokesperson for the N.W.T.'s Department of Executive and Indigenous Affairs, wrote that the government of the Northwest Territories has yet to receive official notice of the Dehcho First Nation's plans or intentions to draft a land code and is not in a place to comment.

"How land is managed is the subject of on-going negotiations, and there are currently interim measures in place to govern how land within the Dehcho is managed until those negotiations are resolved," he said.

"We look forward to learning more about the Dehcho's proposed approach."

In similar messaging, Nicolas Moquin, a spokesperson for Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada, told CBC News in an email the department is aware of DFN's intention to create its own land code, however it was "unable to comment at this early stage."

"We look forward to discussing this further with Dehcho First Nations," Moquin wrote.

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