K’atlodeeche First Nation (KFN) has officially withdrawn from Dehcho First Nations and the Dehcho Process to preserve its reserve and treaty rights, and to pursue its own land claim with the federal government.
Chief Roy Fabian made that announcement on Feb. 11 at a meeting of Dehcho First Nations leadership in Fort Providence.
“The number one reason we’re leaving the Dehcho Process is because Canada was telling the Dehcho, ‘We want you to have a settlement like the Tlicho,’” Fabian explained in an interview with The Hub. “So there’ll be a Dehcho government. All the people will become Dehcho First Nations people. So KFN will no longer exist. What we’ll become is just a town.”
The chief said that is unacceptable to KFN membership.
“The people said no,” he said. “KFN cannot become a non-entity.”
Fabian said, originally under the Dehcho Process, First Nations would delegate jurisdiction over the land to a Dehcho government, but each band would continue to exist.
The chief said another big issue is the status of the Hay River Reserve, which was created in 1974.
Under a Dehcho comprehensive claim, the reserve would disappear and become a community.
The chief said the reserve has become part of KFN’s sense of identity and heritage, and the people are not willing to give it up.
“Of course, we say no,” he said. “That’s why we got out of the Dehcho Process.”
KFN also has concerns about coming devolution of powers from the federal government to the GNWT and how that will affect its status.
“We’re not willing to give up our jurisdiction to anybody until we finish negotiating,” Fabian said.
KFN has been negotiating its own community comprehensive agreement with the federal government for years, although those talks are stalled.
Grand Chief Herb Norwegian of Dehcho First Nations said KFN’s withdrawal doesn’t come as a surprise.
“We always knew this was a possibility,” he said in a news release.
That has always been an option for them from day one, he added. “It’s good they have finally stated their preference. We in the DFN remain united and will continue to pursue our goal to protect as much land as possible in Dehcho territory.”
Dehcho leaders extended support for KFN as it attempts to resolve its interest with Canada.
In an interview with The Hub, Norwegian said he doesn’t expect KFN’s withdrawal to have a significant impact on the aboriginal organizations remaining in the Dehcho Process.
“It was a friendly departure and I think, when something like this happens, we try to be positive about it,” he said. “The Dehcho house, the door, the teepee, the tent that we all live in will always be open.”
Norwegian said Canada’s view is that having a reserve in the Dehcho Process would be cumbersome. “So the view is that the reserve would have to be removed and rightly so because in the Dehcho Process there has to be equality right throughout the whole territory and that was one of the problems that we had.”
However, he said K’atlodeeche First Nation was quite adamant about keeping the reserve. “It was their decision and it was respected by us.”
The Dehcho Process – negotiations for land, resources and self-government – began with 13 First Nations and Metis Councils, but is now down to 10 members. First Nations in Wrigley and Fort Liard previously left.
Norwegian said he doesn’t foresee any other
“There’s always this apprehension, but it’s my job to try to go into the communities and try to give them some level of comfort and get them to understand the consequences and try to nurture them as much as possible,” he said.
As background for KFN’s decision to withdraw, Fabian provided an hour-long history lesson on the band’s involvement in the Dehcho Process, beginning in 1993 when K’atlodeeche was one of the signatories to the Dehcho Declaration.
The chief said the Dehcho Process was originally for the whole Dehcho territory and there would be no land selection.
However, he said in 2006, Canada said it was not willing to explore the Dehcho Process anymore and wanted to negotiate a community comprehensive claim which would mean land selection in the region.
“But it’s not the Dehcho Process that we started in 2002, because that was where we were claiming land in the whole Dehcho territories,” he said.
Over the years of the Dehcho Process, KFN has also attempted to negotiate a treaty land entitlement (TLE) agreement to add land to its reserve and also began its own community comprehensive claim.
KFN is still looking for a community comprehensive claim and a TLE, even though the two are usually mutually exclusive.
“We’re still playing the two games, because if Canada is willing to play that game, why can’t we?” said Fabian.
Whatever happens now, the chief said band members were clear at a general meeting in November not to give up treaty rights or the reserve, and to maintain jurisdiction over the band’s traditional land.
“That’s where it stands right now,” he said, noting things are up in the air.
“We still haven’t decided to completely let go of the comprehensive claim,” Fabian said. “We decided to get out of the Dehcho Process.”
— Paul Bickford