On Sept. 1 a long sought-after dream will be realized by the Délın̨ę people of the Northwest Territories: They will be self-governing.
“When the process of negotiation began, our chief negotiator said, ‘Oh, it will take a couple of years and it would be done,’ and then it took us 20 years. It was back and forth. It took a long process,” said Raymond Tutcho, who will become the first leader of the Délın̨ę Got’ın̨ę government.
Negotiations began in 1995 based on the land claim agreement, which gave the Sahtu Dene and Métis the right to self-government. Transition to self-government began two years ago after membership voted 83 per cent in favour of ratifying the final agreement.
In 2015, the federal and territorial governments passed legislation to recognize the Délın̨ę Final Self-Government Agreement. In just a few day’s time, the Délın̨ę will no longer be governed by the Indian Act.
“Any First Nation that finds a way and means to move beyond the Indian Act is a positive step. That’s their inherent right to self-determination that’s being respected and followed,” said National Chief Perry Bellegarde, of the Assembly of First Nations.
The Délın̨ę Got’ın̨ę government will be a unique blend of community-based Indigenous/public government. All members of the Délın̨ę First Nation Band and land claim beneficiaries, registered with the Délın̨ę Land Corporation, will be Délın̨ę First Nation citizens.
This will include not only the approximately 500 people living in the region, but the roughly 1,000 members spread across Canada.
“I am excited and my people are excited because it’s one of a kind in Canada,” said Tutcho.
The Délın̨ę Got’ın̨ę government will initially take on the responsibilities of and power held by the Charter Community, the Délın̨ę Land Corporation and the Délın̨ę First Nation Band.
It will also be responsible for many of its own programs and services, along with determining how Délın̨ę Got’ın̨ę language and culture, customs, traditions and spiritual practices will be preserved and promoted.
“We can create our own Aboriginal Dene laws regarding our own government, and we have to reflect on some of the values of the traditional way of working with our own people,” said Tutcho.
Other responsibilities for the Délın̨ę Got’ın̨ę government will be phased in after that.
Funding for the new government will be shared between Délın̨ę Got’ın̨ę, Canada and the Government of the Northwest Territories. A five-year financial agreement is in place. Funding will be adjusted over time as the Délın̨ę Got’ın̨ę government takes on more responsibilities.
“I think it’s a plan that other Aboriginal organizers can look at,” said Tutcho.
Tutcho, who was elected June 6, along with six other members, to form the governing council has a two-year term. The next election will see four-year terms established.
The Délın̨ę Got’ın̨ę government also has representatives from the Elders council, justice council and Beneficiaries Board.
The Beneficiaries Board is separate from the Délın̨ę Got’ın̨ę government and will make decisions on how land claim money, assets and rights are used and managed.
Délın̨ę will host celebrations to mark the new governance from Sept. 6 to Sept. 8. The first annual Délın̨ę Łénɑts’ehdǝ́ Dzené (community gathering) will take place on Sept. 7 and will include officials from the governments of Canada and the N.W.T., and the Délın̨ę government leaders.