K’atlodeeche First Nation became the latest aboriginal group to sign on to devolution Monday, marking a dramatic shift from its earlier position.
“At the beginning of January, we held a general band meeting and we got the go-ahead,” Chief Roy Fabian told The Hub last week. “There has been a due process. We’re going to get a chance to uphold our Treaty rights.”
Fabian said that devolution is the best way he sees to go forward maintaining and benefiting from control of traditional lands outside the strict boundaries of the Hay River Reserve, as well as having a say and a seat at the table for broader discussions about land in the Northwest Territories as a whole. By taking its place on the intergovernmental committee, Fabian said the First Nation would have input on how all public lands are administered.
“We want to co-manage our land: Canada or the NWT isn’t going to be the sole power over the land,” he said. “Through devolution, they have to consult with us as a First Nation, they have to accommodate us. If we don’t sign on to devolution, we won’t have the opportunity to be a part of that process. That’s how we see it.”
Devolution will see resource revenue from the territory split between the federal and territorial governments with a portion of the NWT’s share going to First Nations that sign on to the agreement. There were concerns on the Hay River Reserve that it would mean giving up control of land and eroding Treaty rights but Fabian said members have given a clear mandate to join.
“We want people to understand what we’re doing,” he said. “To us old men, we looked at that devolution agreement for a long time and didn’t support it. Now we’re seeing it as an opportunity.”
There were a series of band meetings over the past two years leading up to this decision, said Fabian, and at a final vote in January, the membership agreed to sign on to the agreement.
Premier Bob McLeod said he hoped the First Nation’s decision encouraged other groups to sign on as well.
“We were always looking forward to having all the First Nations signing on,” he said. “What we were doing was taking over responsibility for land and water and resources.”
Fabian said KFN is looking forward to sharing that responsibility.
“We’re going to get all the benefits of that devolution agreement, like royalties, and we’ll be at the table,” he said. “They can’t ignore us, not anymore.”