Chief agrees to create a working group to re-write declaration of sovereignty in Dene language

Dene leader Francois Paulette, left, and KFN Chief Roy Fabian speak at the First Nation’s 2013 Assembly Aug. 7 at the Chief Lamalice Complex. - photo by Sarah Ladik NNSL

Dene leader Francois Paulette, left, and KFN Chief Roy Fabian speak at the First Nation’s 2013 Assembly Aug. 7 at the Chief Lamalice Complex.
– photo by Sarah Ladik

The K’atlodeeche First Nation will be presenting what amounts to a declaration of sovereignty over their traditional land to the territorial and federal governments, as well as to the Crown – but it’s not quite ready just yet.

Members at KFN’s 2013 Assembly decided the declaration needed an overhaul after hearing a draft version on Aug. 7. It was suggested the document be shortened and repetitions removed, but perhaps more significantly, the language of the letter itself was called into question.

“English is a weak language,” Chief Roy Fabian told the members assembled at the Chief Lamalice Complex. “We need a declaration in our own language first, and then we can work on translating it to English. The Dene language is more solid. When you say something, that’s what it means.”

The draft of the document, read by Fabian at the meeting, called for recognition of the First Nation’s rights over its traditional territory, as well as protection for the land, water and resources themselves.

“We will not allow our treaty and aboriginal rights to be further eroded by the Crown,” he read, going on to state that KFN would negotiate with outside parties regarding land use, but only on its own terms. “We expect our rights to be respected within our own homeland.”

Ken Norn, chief operating officer of Naegha Zhia Inc., the Band’s development corporation, was outspoken in his belief that the declaration’s structure be redefined.

“I want Canada to understand what it is I’m declaring,” he said.

Norn said he wanted the document to include a better explanation of the Dene people’s attachment to nature and hence their traditional land, going on to say he doesn’t feel his harvesting rights fall under treaty or aboriginal designation, but are inherent and given by the Creator.

Norn agreed with Fabian that a group should be formed to tackle the redefinition of terms in the declaration as well as look into writing it in Dene and then translating it back into English.

“Corporate law in Canada is defined by the English language,” said Fabian. “But when it comes to government law, it doesn’t fit (our situation).”

Other points in the declaration potentially subject to change included re-stating the fact that Treaty 8 was signed with the Crown and as such constitutes international law. Fabian noted he thinks the present federal government prefers to not see it as such.

While some members present were supportive of the declaration and voiced their desire to strike a committee to revise it right away, others were skeptical it would lead to any real change.

“I have been here since 1972,” said Georgina Fabian. “I’ve been hearing this over and over, always the same thing.”

She spoke of when the Hay River Reserve was formed to protect the land and community from encroachment by the town of Hay River. She said instead of just talking about action, the leaders at the time took steps to see those plans realized.

“These declarations, they’re starting to sound like a song you know how to recite,” she said. “When are we going to do something about it?”

But Norn was confident that chief and council were on the right track, saying that the community had asked them in April to take steps towards formalizing a declaration of KFN’s sovereignty over their land.

“This is exactly what we wanted them to do,” he told the members present. “This declaration is probably the most important thing we’re doing here. Everything else will come after.”

— Sarah Ladik