The Dene Nation will meet on August 3 to 5 to sign its new constitution.
Dene National Chief Norman Yakelaya says the new constitution makes key updates to the existing constitution signed in the 1970s.
“Our survival as a Dene Nation is at stake,” he said.
It recognizes things like the Tlicho region having self-government as well as listing new community names and outlining the role of the nation moving forward.
Yakelaya noted that the previous constitution was written around the time Pierre Elliot Trudeau released his infamous “White Paper” — which outlined how Indigenous peoples would be assimilated into Canada — when things like Indigenous bands self-governing didn’t exist.
Yakelaya said with chiefs from the Tłı̨chǫ government and Dehcho region rejoining the Dene Nation, it felt like the group was getting its family back together.
The Dene Nation, formerly known as the Indian Brotherhood of the Northwest Territories, was initially formed in 1969 in response to the federal government’s “White Paper” and in an attempt to block the Mackenzie Valley oil pipeline, which cut through a number of NWT’s Indigenous groups’ traditional lands.
Since then, Indigenous governments have been able to secure land agreements and some, like the Tlicho government, have established their own municipal governments and are self-governing.
If similar agreements come for the Akaitcho Region — which includes bands like the Yellowknives Dene First Nation — and the Dehcho Region, Yakelaya said the role of the Dene Nation may change.
But he said he hopes the organization is flexible enough to adapt and may even grow in prominence in the territory.
“It’s almost like the Dene Nation — there’s going to be a new government in the Northwest Territories. And when we have all the Dene settled based on the treaties eight and 11, with the modern land agreements and self-government, is there really a need for the territorial government?”
He added the new constitution would set up the Dene Nation for the next 50 to 100 years.