Aboriginal Participation in Devolution Negotiations
Premier Floyd K. Roland presented a history of the AiP process to Members of the Legislative Assembly this morning.
Mr. Speaker, the Government of the Northwest Territories firmly believes in the inherent right of Aboriginal people to manage their resources and govern their own affairs. For years, we have been active participants in the land claims and self-government negotiations that have seen real power and control pass back to NWT Aboriginal governments. That commitment has extended to Devolution negotiations, as well. From the beginning of our negotiations, we have made sure that Aboriginal governments have had every opportunity to participate in a meaningful and active way.
The current Devolution process began at a May 2001 meeting of the then Intergovernmental Forum, consisting of Aboriginal leadership, the Premier of the Northwest Territories and the Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs. It was at this meeting that agreement was reached on a Memorandum of Intent that stated the intention of all parties to begin negotiations.
Tripartite negotiations between Canada, the GNWT and representatives from the Aboriginal governments began in September 2002. The Aboriginal governments formed the Aboriginal Summit shortly thereafter, selecting a chief negotiator and adding legal and research staff. The GNWT and Canada shared the cost of funding the Aboriginal Summit to represent NWT Aboriginal governments in the Devolution negotiations. While the Summit has since dissolved, most Aboriginal governments continue to participate in negotiations, either at the table or as observers. We continue to fund Aboriginal government participation up to the present day, with the GNWT alone contributing approximately $3.9 million since 2001 in addition to roughly equal contributions from Canada.
Finance Canada, the lead federal department for Resource Revenue Sharing negotiations, chose to conduct these discussions at a separate table, although these were linked to the Main Table devolution talks. It was Canada’s preference to conduct these negotiations on a bilateral basis with the GNWT. The GNWT continued to advocate for a seat for Aboriginal governments at these negotiations and their lead or chief negotiator attended these sessions as part of the GNWT’s caucus. In addition, the GNWT initiated its own bilateral negotiations with Aboriginal governments on how resource revenues would be shared among NWT governments following Devolution. This commitment to bilateral negotiations with Aboriginal governments on resource revenue sharing continues and provisions reflecting this form part of the proposed Devolution AiP.
These early negotiations resulted in a Devolution Framework Agreement, which was signed by the GNWT, Canada and Aboriginal governments in March 2004, indicating agreement among all parties on the broad outlines of Devolution. In 2005, Canada made an offer to the NWT parties. The Aboriginal Summit’s negotiator was prepared to recommend the draft AiP and advanced it that summer at a number of general assemblies. However, the GNWT declined the offer, not agreeing with Canada over primarily financial matters, including A-base, one-time costs and Net Fiscal Benefit. Changes in ministerial leadership and two federal elections that ultimately resulted in a change of government in 2006 were also a factor in the slowing of negotiations.
While negotiations with Canada stalled, discussions between the GNWT and Aboriginal governments continued. In May 2007, the GNWT and four Aboriginal governments – the Inuvialuit, Gwich’in, Sahtu and NWT Métis Nation – signed an AiP on resource revenue sharing that would see 25% of the Net Fiscal Benefit shared among Aboriginal governments. The AiP included provisions for the inclusion of the remaining three Aboriginal governments in the future negotiations of a final resource revenue sharing agreement. The four Aboriginal governments and the GNWT then agreed on a revised Devolution Agreement-in-Principle that they formally jointly transmitted to Minister Prentice for signature. The Minister declined and suggested returning to the negotiation table. The main issues of money remained. With little left to discuss until Canada and the GNWT had resolved the outstanding financial issues, Aboriginal governments agreed that negotiations should continue on a bilateral basis. During these bilateral discussions with Canada since the fall of 2007, the GNWT continued to keep its Aboriginal government partners updated on progress through eight Regional Aboriginal Leadership meetings and by providing copies of correspondence with Canada.
During the spring and summer of 2009, Canada and the GNWT began to make progress on resolving the outstanding bilateral issues. With the final elements of a Devolution AiP starting to come together, plans were made to brief Aboriginal governments and resume full tripartite negotiations. During November and December 2009 and January 2010, briefings were given to:
- The President and Vice-President of the Gwich’in Tribal Council;
- The Chair of the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation and senior officials;
- All Tlicho leadership and senior staff;
- All Sahtu leadership and senior officials;
- The majority of Akaitcho Chiefs; and
- NWT Métis Nation leadership and officials.
Canada provided a separate technical briefing to Dehcho representatives in January 2010. A technical session with Canada, the GNWT and Aboriginal governments was held in January 2010 and Main Table negotiations were held in April and June 2010. The Inuvialuit, Sahtu and NWT Métis Nation were full participants in the Main Table negotiations along with Canada and the GNWT. The Tlicho, Akaitcho and Dehcho attended the negotiations as observers. The Gwich’in Tribal Council had formally withdrawn from participation in April 2010, despite having been signatories to the 2007 AiP on resource revenue sharing between the GNWT and Aboriginal governments.
Following the Main Table negotiations in June, there was agreement that negotiators had reached the extent of their mandate and the proposed AiP should be forwarded to leadership for consideration.
As I said at the beginning, Mr. Speaker, every reasonable effort has been made to include Aboriginal governments in the devolution negotiations in an active and meaningful way. It is simply untrue to suggest, as some have, that the process leading to the proposed AiP excluded anyone that was willing to participate or is simply the result of bilateral discussions between Canada and the GNWT.
Mr. Speaker, I believe that the proposed AiP provides the basis for a deal on Devolution that will create real benefits for all residents of the NWT. Without Devolution, the NWT’s share of resource revenues will continue to be zero. We have made every effort over the past nine years to involve NWT Aboriginal governments in the negotiations and there is nothing in the proposed AiP they have not had the chance to review and fully consider many times before.
Gaining control over public lands, water and resources will be a major step in the political evolution of the NWT, putting NWT residents in charge of decision-making and giving us access to revenues that are now flowing to Ottawa. All NWT residents will benefit from Devolution and it is my hope that NWT Aboriginal governments will be prepared to take the next step in the process with us. We look forward to the time when they will sign on to become full participants – and beneficiaries – of Devolution.
For more information, contact:
Office of the Premier/Cabinet
Government of the Northwest Territories
Phone: (867) 669-2302