CBC News — The national chief of the Dene Nation says a proposed Forest Act from the Northwest Territories government is an affront to treaty rights and Indigenous authority.

According to a report by CBC News, Norman Yakeleya said the territorial government consulted with some, but not all, of the Dene Nation’s member nations when writing the draft legislation. The legislation is scheduled for first and second reading this year prior to the fall election, and it applies to regions as far north as the Sahtu.

The territorial government is amending and combining two existing acts — the Forest Management Act and the Forest Protection Act — to create the Forest Act.

According to the government’s website, the new act will include management of non-timber forest products, like biomass, requirements on industry to make fire prevention plans, and the recognition and affirmation of Aboriginal and Treaty rights.

The former MLA and land claim negotiator said he’s concerned some Dehcho and Akaitcho First Nations were left out of the two-year process to enact legislation affecting Dehcho and Akaitcho territories, and their unsettled land claims.

‘It’s Dene Nation land’

Yakeleya said he’s speaking out before the draft legislation is tabled, hoping it can be rewritten with what he calls “full consultation.”

“They are making laws on our land and they are not asking the rightful partners,” Yakeleya said. “So that old style of doing business is still alive and well within the territorial government bureaucracy. We want to work with them but it’s not their land. It’s Dene Nation land.”

A news release issued by the Dene Nation last Friday claimed the territorial government has not met fundamental commitments set out in numerous government-to-government memorandums of understanding.

“This seems like a deliberate tactic to further divide Indigenous governments,” says Gladys Norwegian, grand chief of the Dehcho First Nations, in the statement.

in an email to CBC, Environment and Natural Resources Minister Robert C. McLeod said the draft Forest Act “explicitly recognizes and affirms Aboriginal and Treaty rights, including the commitments of land claim and self-government agreements.”

According to McLeod’s statement, the proposed Forest Act was developed through input from multiple groups, including a “Technical Working Group,” a “Stakeholders Advisory Group” and the “Intergovernmental Council.”

The following First Nations, or representative organizations, are listed as being part the intergovernmental council: K’atl’odeeche First Nation, Tlicho Government, Inuvialuit Regional Corporation, Gwich’in Tribal Council, Sahtu Secretariat Inc., Deline Got’ıne Government, Salt River First Nation, Acho Dene Koe First Nation, Deninu Kue First Nation and the Northwest Territories Métis Nation.

In the statement, the North Slave Métis Alliance, Dehcho First Nations and the Akaitcho Territorial Government are listed as members of the technical working group.

Tlicho Government responds

Meanwhile, the Tlicho Government released a statement of its own on Tuesday. The Tlicho, according to the statement, disagree with the Dene Nation’s broad criticism of the process.

Tlicho Grand Chief George Mackenzie says the Dene Nation did not speak for the Tlicho when it criticized the process behind the proposed N.W.T. Forest Act. (Alex Brockman/CBC)

“The process by which these pieces of legislation were developed was, overall, a good process and one that Tlicho Government has been actively engaged in,” stated Tlicho Grand Chief George Mackenzie.

“This recent press release from Dene Nation does not accurately reflect our experience working with GNWT [Government of the Northwest Territories] and other Indigenous governments through this process and, in making these statements, Dene Nation does not appear to respect or understand Tlicho Government’s experience.

“The Tlicho are a nation and the Tlicho Government speaks for the Tlicho.”

The first reading of Forest Act will happen Friday in the N.W.T. Legislative Assembly.