Skip to main content

Dene First Nations chief negotiators say they are frustrated and outraged after learning that the Crown’s senior representative has been removed from an advanced land-claim agreement.

Arne Peltz, legal counsel for Sayisi Dene First Nation and Northlands Denesuline First Nation, said that after 20 years of negotiation, the Denesuline and Canada were about to initial a land-claim agreement last month when Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett shut down negotiations, saying at the time that more consultation was required with Indigenous peoples in Northwest Territories.

The land in question spans northern Manitoba, Nunavut and a swath of land in the southeast corner of the Northwest Territories. In addition to the Sayisi Dene and Northlands Denesuline, the other three First Nations involved in the negotiation dispute are Fond du Lac First Nation, Black Lake First Nation and Hatchet Lake First Nation, collectively called the Athabasca Denesuline.

Story continues below advertisement

The land has been their home for centuries, Mr. Peltz said. The Dene First Nations travelled throughout the land, got their sustenance from it, died and were buried on the land, and for people who are attached to the land, this treaty would recognize that.

Shortly after Ms. Bennett’s call for more consultation, said Mr. Peltz, negotiators learned that Mary Jean Rolando, who had been the Crown’s representative for nearly two decades, was pulled from the negotiating table entirely. Ms. Rolando did not respond to a request to comment.

“It’s damaging, possibly fatal to the successful conclusion of the Dene treaty. From our perspective, there’s no basis for this and it’s unprecedented, unnecessary and should be reversed immediately,” Mr. Peltz said.

“It’s really important in Canada that land claims be settled, it’s important for justice for Indigenous people, but it’s also important for the development of the country.”

Mr. Peltz said negotiators have asked the government to come back to the table and a court to order the government back to the table. He added they “need to have a lawyer to finish this."

A spokesperson from the minister’s office said the department of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs “does not generally comment on personnel changes,” but that it is “currently taking steps to assign a new representative.”

But it’s not as simple as finding a replacement for Ms. Rolando, Mr. Peltz said, because she had the institutional memory necessary to negotiate.

Story continues below advertisement

“Shutting down the table, which the minister did a month ago, was seen as an act of personal betrayal,” he said, adding it “made it even worse” when they learned she had been pulled from the file completely.

In a statement on Tuesday, Benji Denechezhe, chief negotiator for Northlands Denesuline, said that removing Canada’s lawyer from the negotiation shows that Ms. Bennett and Canada “are moving away from their commitments to conclude our land claim and to reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.”

“From our perspective, Canada’s lawyer was forceful, capable and honourable in meeting her professional obligations to seek an agreement. It looks to us like sabotage of our land claim,” he said.

The statement also says that Dene chief negotiators believe the removal of Ms. Rolando shows the government’s intent to set back negotiators by “stripping the federal negotiating team of historical and institutional knowledge of the claim and the negotiations."

It says that over the course of negotiations, there was no backup federal lawyer at the table.

Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.

Related topics

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Cannabis pro newsletter
To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies