Where some might see a lost cause or an impossible fight, Shirley Bonnetrouge saw a class project.
After reading about the upcoming devolution finalization in an insert in The Hub a few weeks ago, Bonnetrouge, the adult educator at the Chief Daniel Sonfrere Community Learning Centre, decided to turn a concern about the process into a learning opportunity for herself, her students, and the community as a whole.
“People don’t know as much about it as they should,” she said. “I told my students, we have to get out there and do something. We need to get excited and make other people excited too.”
Bonnetrouge assigned a research project that had her students look up the history of devolution in the territory, as well as the current status of the Devolution Act as it is tied to Bill C-15. The main concern coming out of the project was that there could be a lack of protection for land and water in the NWT, as well as what she and students see as the lack of power left to the aboriginal governments as a result of the super board set to take over the responsibilities that were once the domain of the Mackenzie Land and Water Board, and its regional boards.
“My thinking last spring when I was hearing about it, was that it could be scary, but I hoped and prayed that leaders would take care of us,” she said.
She said she heard about the Dene chiefs meeting in Dettah for an emergency meeting where they shared some of their concerns over a lack of consultation by both the territorial and federal governments.
As the research project progressed, she said many of the students came to decide that they supported devolution itself, but not the process by which it was proceeding, nor the bill to which it’s attached.
“We worked together to read everything, going through articles and press releases, and fitting all the pieces of the puzzle together as a group,” she said. “As an educator, I try to keep my students involved in current events and we talk about what’s going on in the newspaper every week.”
From there, Bonnetrouge encouraged her students to write letters to The Hub expressing their concerns, and added her own as well.
With the finalization of devolution happening April 1, she said she only has a few weeks in which to effect change and wanted to rally as many voices to the cause as she could.
“I’m scared,” she said. “I’m scared of not being able to eat fish from the rivers and lakes anymore and I’m scared of all the development that’s going to happen because of this.”
K’atlodeeche First Nation (KFN) Chief Roy Fabian attended the meeting in Dettah last week where he stated his opposition for the process through which devolution has come about.
“The goal of the Dene people back in the 1970s when this all started was self-government,” he told The Hub.
“Over the years, we’ve lost sight of that. It became all about the economy. It wasn’t about land and government anymore, it became about money.”
Fabian said he would have liked to see the process of negotiation more aligned with Dene principles and that he believes the act will strip power from aboriginal groups.
“Devolution itself is not a bad thing,” he said.
“But what it’s resulting in is hard to take.”