A leader with the Gwich'in Tribal Council is returning from a forum with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau optimistic about the future of his First Nation's land claim agreement.
Jordan Peterson, vice-president of the council, was in Ottawa this week with representatives from more than 30 other Indigenous organizations for the Canada-Modern Treaty and Self-Governing First Nations Forum. They were there to discuss what they need to properly implement their land claims.
He said his organization currently receives $700,000 in annual federal funding to implement the agreement, which is in its 16th year. He said these activities actually cost the council closer to $3 million each year.
That money goes to things like salaries, administration and travel for meetings. The council currently covers the shortfall from its main savings fund.
The Gwich'in Tribal Council's total budget is much more than that.
"Annually our budget, including all of the third-party funding that we have to run programs and services, is about $12 to $14 million," he said.
That money goes to all sorts of programming, including education and scholarships.
A 'proactive' approach
Peterson didn't come back with a new funding agreement, but he's encouraged that the federal government is following through on a commitment to hold the forum annually with leaders. Their first meeting was Nov. 1, 2017.
"For this government to take a very proactive approach and collaborative approach to trying to fix these issues, I think is the main point of this meeting," he said.
Peterson didn't pinpoint how much the Gwich'in Tribal Council is looking for. Instead, he explained that his team has submitted an analysis of the true cost of implementing the land claim, which includes specific details about different aspects of the agreement.
Once negotiations over the contents of this 300-page document are finalized, then his team can start moving on to fiscal negotiations.
'I think he was pretty honest'
Peterson said he appreciates that Trudeau was frank with the delegation about the amount of work it takes to negotiate agreements with every First Nation involved.
"I think he was pretty honest [about] the fact they know they're not going to be able to get everything done," he said.
"It's going to be pretty busy the next six months before the election for us to really push these things forward."
The federal election is scheduled to take place on Oct. 21.
Because of the election, a date hasn't been set for next year's forum. Negotiations between the federal government and individual First Nations are ongoing.
"While we have achieved a lot together, we still have a lot more to do," reads a statement from the prime minister's office. "That is why meetings like this one are critical, and why we have made it a priority to meet every year."