DELINE, N.W.T. – A tiny northern community is preparing to break ground in aboriginal self-government with a deal taking effect next week that’s being watched across the country.
“We get calls from all over Canada – international, too,” said Raymond Tutcho, who on Thursday will become the head of what is being called Canada’s first combined aboriginal-public government.
“We have a bit of a unique model,” said Fred Talen, head negotiator for the Northwest Territories.
“We have a government that certainly represents Dene and Metis of Deline. It’ll also do all things for all residents including grading the roads and providing municipal services for everyone.
“I’m not aware of any agreement that creates what this (does).”
The new Deline administration will take over from the local band council, the land-claims body and the municipal government.
Its decisions will apply to Deline’s Dene and non-Dene residents and its power will range from decisions over land use to municipal services, education and health.
The leader must be Dene and the deal gives council the right to guarantee up to three-quarters of its seats for band members, who make up about 90 per cent of the community’s 450 residents. But some seats will be open to non-band members in regular elections.
Those non-members will not be eligible to vote in matters concerning the land claim.
The idea was to give local people more control over local decisions, said Tutcho.
“It’s more of a direct control. We’ve got powers to make law for ourselves.”
The deal includes the promise of a funding agreement from the territory and Ottawa. The Deline council will also have the right to levy its own taxes on all residents.
The Deline agreement will be considered a treaty under Canada’s Constitution, said Talen. However, federal and territorial laws will continue to apply in the community.
The Deline government will only be able to supercede territorial or federal law in specific areas outlined in the agreement. It could, for example, pass a law banning alcohol in the community, even though it’s legal everywhere else.
It will also have extensive powers over school curriculum and teacher certification. It will be able to regulate gambling and the certification of traditional healers.
Tutcho said the new government’s first goal will be to simply find its feet and pass the necessary enabling legislation to operate. After that, it will focus on ensuring existing rules and guidelines conform to Dene beliefs.
“The idea that our laws pertain to our language and spirituality and everything has to be put in there. That’s going to take time.”
Non-aboriginals have to be consulted as well, said Tutcho.
“It’s for non-aboriginal people, too. We have to accommodate their issues, too.”
Talen said the Deline agreement, which stems from the Sahtu land claim for the west-central N.W.T., is being looked at as model for at least four other self-government deals in the territory.
“It does set a precedent and one that other negotiations in the N.W.T. have considered carefully and are following quite closely,”said Talen.
The Tli Cho agreement, which covers the territory’s central region, is similar. But its community governments are part of territorial legislation, not the Constitution.
Deline residents are looking forward to the new regime, Tutcho said.
“We are really excited about it,” he said.
“We’ve got all eyes on us to see how it turns out for our people. We are really watching ourselves, too, to make sure we’re making the right choices for everybody.”