As initial deadline passes, Colville Lake looks to 2024 for self-government

·3 min read
Colville Lake, N.W.T., photographed in January 2020. The community is aiming to establish the first component of community self-government in 2024.  (John Last/CBC - image credit)
Colville Lake, N.W.T., photographed in January 2020. The community is aiming to establish the first component of community self-government in 2024. (John Last/CBC - image credit)

Colville Lake is now looking to 2024 for self-government after its target deadline last year was missed.

"Our plan for 2021 was to conclude the first part of our self-government," said David Codzi, president of the Ayoni Keh Land Corporation. "We had to push it back to 2024 now."

As for why the talks have taken longer than expected, Codzi said one reason is that the territorial government has not implemented the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).

The Government of Canada adopted UNDRIP into federal Act in June 2021.

The N.W.T.'s 19th Legislative Assembly announced at the start of its term that implementing UNDRIP is a priority.

The territorial government is scheduled to reveal an implementation plan by summer 2022.

Self-government negotiations are conducted between representatives from Colville Lake, the territorial government and the federal government, who Codzi said have been more accommodating than the territorial government.

"They're more open to suggestions," Codzi said of the federal government.

Kate Kyle/CBC
Kate Kyle/CBC

The federal government did not agree to an interview. A spokesperson wrote in an email that the discussions are on a confidential basis.

"The Government of Canada is committed to supporting Indigenous Peoples in their work to rebuild and reconstitute their Nations, advance self-determination and, for First Nations, facilitate the transition away from the Indian Act towards self-government," wrote Matthew Gutsch, a representative of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs.

Codzi said he thinks the process would be quicker if the territorial government stepped away and allowed Colville Lake to negotiate directly with the federal government.

"We're all standing and talking and not getting anywhere," he said.

But the N.W.T. government is one of the signatories of the land claim agreement.

The N.W.T. government did not agree to an interview with CBC News or respond to emailed questions by deadline.

But in an earlier email statement on Jan. 11, Todd Sasaki, spokesperson for the department of Executive and Indigenous Affairs, said the territorial government is negotiating "to clarify how the Sahtu Dene and Métis of Colville Lake will implement their Aboriginal right to self-government."

'Willing to move forward'

Joseph Kochon, the community's senior administrative officer, said the latest round of negotiations that occurred in mid-January went well.

He said the territorial government has a new lead negotiator, who took over the role a few months ago, but had previously worked on the negotiations in a different capacity. Kelly Slack is now the territory's chief negotiator.

Wilbert Kochon, Colville Lake's chief, said the relationship with the new negotiator has been positive thus far.

"She's willing to learn and she's willing to move forward," he said. "The first time we met with her was pretty good."

As for Codzi, he said Colville Lake is more than ready for self-government, as the band office already provides most services to the remote community of about 150 people.

Codzi said the community will one day achieve self-government, it's just a matter of how long it will take.

"The faster we get these things done, we don't spend all the dollars talking about something that we know we're going to get to," he said.

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