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Dene Water Worries

Posted by mhudema on July 15, 2008

Dene water worries
Brodie Thomas
Northern News Services
Published Monday, July 14, 2008

TETLIT’ZHEH/FORT MCPHERSON – Concern over the future of waterresources took centre stage at the 38th annual Dene National Assemblyin Fort McPherson last week.

Before the meetings even got underway, Dene chiefs had met with Premier Floyd Roland on Monday afternoon in Inuvik.

‘There was a lot of discussion on waterthat comes from the border. We don’t yet have an agreement with othergovernments,’ said Sahtu Grand Chief Frank Andrew.

With at least three conferences onwater planned in the next six months, including a national waterconference to be held in Yellowknife this November, some chiefs werecalling for a public inquiry into how the Alberta tar sands operationsare using water from the Athabasca River.

‘We have to make this as big orbigger than the Berger inquiry. We drink water. We don’t drink oil,’said Tlicho Grand Chief George Mackenzie.

Environment and Natural ResourcesDeputy Minister Gary Bohnet made a presentation to the assemblyacknowledging the stress on territorial waterways from both internaland external sources.

‘People shouldn’t be fighting amongstthemselves from region to region,’ said Bohnet, pointing out that wateris a common necessity.

He called on each of the Dene regions along with the Inuvialuit to provide a representative for a working group on water issues.

The Alberta tar sands were named timeand time again as the main source of strain on the territory’s watersystems. Chief Francois Paulette of Smith’s Landing said he would liketo see a moratorium on new development in the Alberta tar sands.

‘We’re being hit twice. First theywant to poison the river. Second they want to kill the river by dammingit. They say it (the dam) is a run of the river but it’s not. It is areservoir they want to create that will increase the water level by 40metres,’ said Paulette.

Dene National Chief Bill Erasmuscommented that water has always been a topic of discussion at theassemblies, but has become a more urgent matter recently.

‘Water is a huge concern, especiallyrealizing as downstream users that our waters are getting contaminatedand they’re not like they used to be.’

The federal government’s recent residential school apology was also on leaders’ minds as they gave their opening remarks.

‘It will be interesting to see whatCanada will do now, given this recent apology,’ said Dehcho Grand ChiefGerald Antoine. He called on everyone to move forward with the apologyand be part of the solution. Other delegates were not quite as pleasedwith the apology. Paulette asked what the federal government is goingto do to repair the damages that were done. Liz Hansen of Inuvik alsospoke out on the apology.

‘An apology is not good enough becausewe have impacts from the residential school system. We have parentswithout skills. We need programs to repair the damage,’ said Hansen.

Assembly of First Nations Grand Chief Phil Fontaine attended the firsttwo days of the assembly. He will attend the 29th annual Assembly ofFirst Nations in Quebec City this week. Fontaine spoke positively aboutthe apology and its effects in the past month.

‘No longer will there be a denial ofour rights. I believe that the apology is a launching pad to a wholenew world: one that respects the rights of all citizens, including us,’said Fontaine. ‘That means there is a lot of work ahead of us.’

Even with what Erasmus called a light agenda, the topics of mining and water took up an entire day of discussion.

‘The difficulty with a nationalassembly is that there are a lot of delegates and a lot of people wantto speak. And it’s difficult to hear everyone speak on a subject. Sosometimes we run late but we try to accommodate people as much aspossible,’ said Erasmus.

The meetings were followed each nightby dancing, handgames, and talk amongst old friends. The community ofFort McPherson set up a large stage for events next to the Anglicanchurch, and there was a festive atmosphere in the air despite theserious nature of the talks throughout the day.

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