Three outstanding land claims from Indigenous groups may finally be making some headway after 20 years at the negotiating table.
The territorial and federal governments have committed to making new offers on the claims by the middle of May, part of larger plan that aims to see them settled within in the next two years.
On Wednesday, Premier Bob McLeod and Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Carolyn Bennet met with leadership of the Dehcho First Nations, the Akaitcho First Nations and the Northwest Territory Métis Nation in Ottawa.
There they discussed challenges, highlighted in two reports from the minister’s representatives, which have slowed down negotiations.
The reports were made public Thursday morning. They indicated challenges, from the size of land packages to surface rights, as barriers that need to be resolved moving forward.
‘The old ways of doing things isn’t working’
Premier Bob McLeod noted that some of the challenges outlined were with government policies and approaches, and that more flexibility is needed.
“We acknowledge that the old ways of doing things isn’t working,” McLeod said.
“Our government is committed to developing new approaches that will bring these negotiations to a successful close.”
New approaches are needed all around, McLeod says, including better communication between Indigenous groups with overlapping land claims.
Both the Akaitch First Nations and Northwest Territory Métis Nation have overlapping claims in areas around Hay River, Fort Resolution and Fort Smith.
“We think that with facilitators, with aggressive workplans, working all together with all the Aboriginal governments and ourselves, we should be able to find a way forward,” McLeod said.
Agreements expected within 24 months
Discussions have already begun with some Indigenous leaders who are currently in Ottawa. McLeod says the GNWT will begin work on agreements when the premier returns to the territory.
The reports suggest an 18 to 24 month timeframe for final agreements or agreements in principle to be made, a task McLeod believes they can accomplish.
“We want to have a final agreement or at least an agreement of principle for those that don’t have an agreement [by the end of the government’s mandate],” he said.
“With the new path forward, we think it give us a real opportunity to settle a land claim or make a very significant advancement within the last two and a half years of our mandate.”