The federal government won praise at the 47th Dene National Assembly on the Hay River Reserve – marking 11 years since the last time it had been held there.
“A highlight is people are very clear that they’re not happy with the way things are going because they’ve been in negotiations for years and they’re still not taking care of their communities,” said National Chief Bill Erasmus of the Dene Nation. “They’re pleased that the federal government is moving in the right direction.”
That right direction includes the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls and a federal review of government policies and legislation affecting indigenous people.
“Our rights are there. We know we have rights,” said Erasmus. “The thing is now it’s time to sit down and work things out with different governments and authorities. So people are realizing that. The question is how to do that the best way.”
About 100 delegates – representing about 80 per cent of the 31 First Nations making up the Dene Nation – attended the gathering.
The assembly discussed a wide variety of issues, including relations with the GNWT and the federal government, treaty rights, government funding, economic development, fisheries on Great Slave Lake, and more.
There were also a number of guest speakers on topics such as the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, environmental issues, relations between First Nations and the RCMP, and more.
National Chief Perry Bellegarde of the Assembly of First Nations also addressed the assembly.
Bellegarde pointed to a number of commitments made by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, including an indigenous language revitalization act, implementing through legislation the United Nations’ Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and reviewing legislation and policy affecting indigenous people.
The AFN national chief said the Liberal government and indigenous people have until the next federal election in October 2019 to make changes.
“Because if they don’t make it, who knows what’s going to happen in 2019,” he said. “I use the example of this, how many thought we’d be saying these words ‘President Donald Trump’? Nobody thought he’d be president, but he is. So anything can happen in politics. So we have to try to get this work done as best we can before things change.”
Chief Roy Fabian of the host K’atlodeeche First Nation called the assembly a “complete success” in the organizational sense by taking advantage of the infrastructure available on the Hay River Reserve.
“The agenda was set up in such a way that everybody had a chance to talk about all the issues that face us today as First Nations,” said Fabian. “And the Dene people came together and they talked about all the issues.”
The K’atlodeeche chief said it was good to hear presentations from various representatives of government and have an opportunity to have conversations with them.
For example, he pointed to a long discussion about relations between the Dene people and the RCMP.
“It was important because for us there are communication issues with the RCMP and we need to straighten that out,” said Fabian.
Plus, he noted a motion was passed concerning federal funding received by the GNWT for indigenous people for health, education, housing and other programs.
“We don’t know how much they get and we don’t know how much is actually being spent on First Nations,” he said.
No elections were held at the assembly this year.
The assembly passed 11 motions, all put into one motion to save time near the end of the meeting.