Jul 4/98: Nunavut-Canada divides the spoils



Globe and Mail
July 4, 1998, p. A6
Brian Laghi

[S.I.S.I.S. note: The following mainstream news article may contain biased or distorted information and may be missing pertinent facts and/or context. It is provided for reference only.]

Winnipeg - About 600 Dene in five northern Manitoba and Saskatchewan communities want part of the boundary of the proposed northern territory of Nunavut moved 200 kilometres northward - granting them about 75,000 square kilometres of what is now the Northwest Territories. Nunavut (an Inuit word for Land of the People) is to become a new two-million-square-kilometre territory stretching across Canada's Eastern Arctic next April 1. It will come under the administrative jurisdiction of the area's mostly Inuit inhabitants.

But the Manitoba and Saskatchewan Dene say the federal government, by carving out a new territory for the 20,000 or so Inuit in the Eastern Arctic, has illegally given away a piece of their traditional hunting grounds north of the 60th parallel. And they worry they will be treated by future Nunavut governments as non-natives if they are found hunting, fishing or trapping in the area. The Dene say the hunt for their survival. "When an officer of Nunavut Territory finds a Dene hunting there - are they looking at a Canadian or are they looking at an Indian?" asked Michael Anderson, a researcher for Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Inc. (MKO), the tribal council for 26 northern Manitoba Indian communities. "The fear is that they will be treated as ordinary Canadians."

He said that each winter Dene from Lac Brochet and Tadoule Lake in Manitoba follow the caribou herd northward by snowmobile, sometimes travelling about 200 kilometres into what is now the Northwest Territories. "This is their traditional land - it has been for centuries," he said, noting they require no permit or special licence to hunt, fish or trap there. In fact, the Dene have never recognized the man-made demarcation line which runs along the 60th parallel and divides the Northwest Territories and Yukon from the southern provinces. They also say that for reasons of culture and history they would be happy to deal with any new Dene led government in the Western Arctic, to be based in Yellowknife. "The elders say when they were out hunting they used to meet the Inuit in the barren lands beyond the tree line and have tea," Mr. Anderson said. "They spoke a little Inuk. The Inuit spoke a little Denesuline. If it was up to the elders to settle this, it would be settled in a minute."

Inuit officials in the proposed new territory say that unless the Crown declares that the disputed lands belong to the Dene, then the lands are part of Nunavut. Various efforts have been made to settle the dispute informally since 1987, but to no avail. And so an on-again, off-again legal action brought by the Dene against Canada and the Inuit of Nunavut is on again.

Arne Peltz, lawyer for the Manitoba Dene, said he has been instructed to pursue the case in the Federal Court of Canada. He represents Dene at Lac Brochet and Tadoule Lake, Saskatchewan Dene from Fond du Lac, Black Lake and Wollaston Lake are seeking intervenor status in the lawsuit. The Dene from all five communities are seeking a court declaration upholding their legal rights to the disputed territory. "They have no dispute with the Inuit," Mr. Peltz said. "In their view, the sticking point is the Crown - Canada."

MKO Grand Chief Francis Flett said the Dene were never consulted over the proposed boundaries for Nunavut. The migrating caribou in the region are an important source of protein for the Dene. Former Dene Sayasi chief Illa Bussidor said about 4 per cent of the total land mass of Nunavut are traditional Dene lands, providing some of the finest hunting and fishing on the continent. "That is our homeland," she said. "Our people co-existed with the caribou on that land for hundreds of years."

Mr. Flett said that while the act proclaiming Nunavut a new territory passed through the Senate of Canada unopposed the first week in June, Grand Chief Phil Fontaine of the Assembly of First Nations is trying to bring the Dene, Inuit and federal government to the table to resolve the dispute informally. The Dene Nation groups several subarctic peoples, including Chipewyan, Slavey, Dogrib, Loucheux and Cree bands.

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