Open Letter to President Nerysoo and Dene National Chief Erasmus:
I must object to both your characterization of the Devolution Agreement in Principle (“AiP”) and your statements related to the history of the negotiations leading to the AiP, as set out in your letter published in the News/North on March 28th, 2011.
The Devolution AiP does not undermine development in the Northwest Territories (NWT). Devolution will allow residents of the NWT to determine how public lands and resources are developed. These decisions are now made in Ottawa. Devolution will enhance the Government of the Northwest Territories’ (GNWTs’) ability to serve the interests of all residents. It will promote the effective, efficient and coordinated management of public lands, waters and resources in the NWT.
I have stated that the AiP is not the best deal, but it is important to put that comment in context. No deal is perfect. Although the AiP does not reflect all of our initial ambitions, it sets out the framework for the best deal any government can realistically hope to achieve. In fact, the Yukon Government is actively pursuing Canada to renegotiate terms of their Devolution Agreement in order to achieve parity with what the GNWT has negotiated.
The Devolution AiP is improved from previously rejected offers. The world has changed dramatically in only a few years and we have negotiated a fair and equitable agreement that reflects the fiscal and political realities of 2011. It includes a commitment to review the treatment of resource revenues, and an ongoing relationship with the federal government to allow for strategic infrastructure investment and other tailored responses to resource development needs. This is an important step forward that largely addresses issues and concerns raised during negotiations.
You call into question the adequacy of the money identified in the AiP to run existing programs and services to be transferred. This is an important subject that was heavily analysed, reviewed and discussed during AiP negotiations. The GNWT reviewed the resources required to deliver services and was able to secure a commitment to funding that exceeds what Canada is spending now. We have done our due diligence.
You suggest that the AiP will fail to deliver increased economic independence. Devolution will provide a significant net fiscal benefit: additional money that can be used to improve programs and services for all residents of the NWT, including all of the Gwich’in. It can be used to make strategic investments that will assist with the economic development of the territory, including the Gwich’in region. If the net fiscal benefit provisions were in place this past year, approximately $60 million would be staying in the NWT, and similar revenue might be available in years to come. That money would be benefitting Gwich’in residents through the GNWT’s public services and through the sharing agreement we hope to sign with your government. Without devolution, the opportunity to access, use and invest these revenues is forever lost.
You state that I refused to meet with Aboriginal governments before the AiP was signed. You know that this is untrue. I met with you and other regional Aboriginal leaders as recently as Sunday January 23rd to discuss the Devolution AiP. At the end of that meeting, I agreed to make myself available on Monday January 24th. You, along with some of the other regional Aboriginal governments, chose not to have further discussions with myself or GNWT officials. At no time did I refuse to meet with any Aboriginal government leader. I am committed to continuing to meet with you to discuss devolution and other initiatives that will benefit the Gwich’in region.
Contrary to what you state in your letter, no parts of the NWT population are shut out of the negotiation process. The Government of the Northwest Territories is a public government representing all people of the Northwest Territories, including Gwich’in residents. We are responsible for balancing the interests of all NWT residents daily and for making decisions that are in the interests of the territory as a whole. As such, the GNWT is already responsible for representing the interests of all NWT residents in devolution negotiations.
The Gwich’in Tribal Council (GTC), and other Aboriginal governments, are invited to participate in devolution to allow them opportunity to ensure that their Aboriginal, treaty and land claims rights are not being affected. The GTC is also invited to help develop land and resource management regimes that respect the separate jurisdictions of the GNWT and Aboriginal governments. As I have stated before, devolution is not about Aboriginal rights or self government. It is about the transfer of responsibilities that are already being exercised by all the provinces and one other territory from one public government to another. It is not creating new powers or proposing to do anything other than what is already being done in the NWT by Canada.
Aboriginal governments have been involved in devolution negotiations since the very beginning. The GTC and other regional governments were full parties to the negotiation. The GTC participated actively for years, reviewing and considering all elements of the AiP at the main table. As a party to the negotiations, the GTC was free to raise any concerns. Some regional Aboriginal governments chose not to participate, and some, like the GTC, participated actively and then chose to walk away. At no time has the GNWT failed to involve the GTC. A regional government cannot choose to walk away from negotiations, and then claim that they were not involved. It remains my hope that the GTC will return to the negotiating table as a full party.
The AiP and our continuing negotiations with the federal government confirm the GNWT’s commitment to secure the best deal possible for all residents of the NWT.
We may continue to have differences of opinions, but I will remain available to consider any concerns the GTC may have with devolution. I also invite you to reconsider your evaluation of the AiP in the context of what is realistically achievable. Until such time, I will respect the GTC’s decision to not participate in devolution negotiations.
Floyd K. Roland