Sahtú Dené and Métis of Norman Wells one step closer to self-governance

From left to right: N.W.T. Premier Bob McCleod, Crown-Indigenous Relations' parliamentary secretary Marc Miller, Norman Wells Land Corporation president Sherry Hodgson, Norman Wells Land Corporation senior negotiator Larry Tourangeau pose for photos as the AIP gets signed. (Agata Gutkowska/CKLB)

An excited crowd gathered in the Norman Wells Royal Canadian Legion yesterday to celebrate a milestone in the community — the signing of the Self-Government Agreement-in-Principle (AIP) for the Sahtú Dené and Métis of Norman Wells.

Cameras flashed and people cheered as the three parties — Government of Canada, Government of Northwest Territories (GNWT), and the Norman Wells Land Corporation (representing the Sahtú Dené and Métis) — signed the AIP.

Signing for the Government of Canada was Marc Miller, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations. Signing for the GNWT was Bob McLeod, NWT Premier. Signing for the Norman Wells Land Corporation was Sherry Hodgson, President of the corporation.

“This marks a very important milestone on the path to self-governance,” Hodgson announced to the crowd. “It is an important signpost on the continuing journey and will guide us as we negotiate our final self-government agreement.”

The AIP is not a legally binding document. Instead, it’s a foundation for the negotiations leading to the Final Self-Government Agreement for the Sahtú Dené and Métis of Norman Wells.

The final agreement could still take several years to finalize. Once signed, it will be protected as a treaty under the Canadian Constitution, giving the Sahtú Dené and Métis of Norman Wells more control over the political decisions that affect their day-to-day lives.

AIP took longer than expected

The three parties signed a self-government framework agreement back in 2007. This framework kicked off the negotiations between the government of Canada, GNWT, and The Norman Wells Land Corporation, leading to yesterday’s celebration. The 2007 framework stated that the three parties would have an AIP signed by June 2010.

June 2010 came and went — the parties missed the four-year soft deadline by almost nine years.

Premier Bob McLeod told CKLB that the greatest challenge in negotiating the AIP was figuring out how to create a self-government in a community that was predominantly non-Indigenous. (Norman Wells has a population of approximately 760 people with about 37% identifying as Indigenous).

“I think at one point there was a breakthrough that people realized… that at some point the oil in the ground would stop producing and perhaps people would leave Norman Wells. [That] seemed a little bit far-fetched for a lot of people… until recently when Norman Wells was shut down for two weeks,” Premier McCleod explained. “I think that was kind of a breakthrough… people realized that at some point, people would leave [Norman Wells] and leave the original people behind… I think that was the essence of the AIP that allowed it to move forward.”

Margaret McDonald was a negotiator for The Norman Wells Land Corporation. She says that her role was to offer support, exchange ideas, and of course, occasionally get angry during heated debates. McDonald said that cultural difference created a major challenge in negotiating the AIP.

Margaret McDonald, negotiator and Director for the Norman Wells Land Corporation, enjoys dinner at the Norman Wells Legion following the signing of the AIP. (Agata Gutkowska/CKLB)

“In my cultural and Indigenous world, sometimes we don’t see things the same way as non-Indigenous people [do]. You know, that was a hard point to get across. But we’re good now,” McDonald told CKLB.

How long until the crowds gather to celebrate the final signing of the self-government agreement?

Larry Tourangeau, a senior negotiator for The Norman Wells Land Corporation, says there are still a lot of important matters to discuss. Tourangeau told CKLB, “We have some outstanding issues… Our tax chapter is one of the big things that we’re dealing with… We need to make sure that when we’re dealing with tax and financial chapters… that we get what we wanna get.”

As negotiations are expected to continue, McDonald thinks that the final agreement will be signed much faster than the AIP was. She told CKLB, “I think we did the majority of the work… We have that all set up… So it’ll take time, but I don’t think it’ll take as long as the AIP.”

Negotiations towards a final self-government agreement will include the development of an Implementation Plan that will guide the new self-government; a Financing Agreement that will detail how the government will be funded; and a Tax Treatment Agreement that will specify tax rules for the new government.

To date, Canada has signed 22 self-government agreements across the nation involving 43 Indigenous communities.

Soon the Tłegǫ́hłı̨ Got’ı̨nę Government, established by the Sahtú Dené and Métis of Norman Wells, will be added to that list.

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