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Denesuline Land Claims Negotiations

Hon. Mary Jane McCallum: Honourable senators, my question is for the Leader of the Government in the Senate.

For 19 years, the Athabasca Denesuline and Ghotelnene K’odtineh Dene have been negotiating modern land claim agreements with the Government of Canada to recognize their rights related to land, harvesting and resource management in their traditional territory. After years of negotiations, in 2018 the federal government committed to conclude the land claims agreements on a nation-to-nation basis, with the goal of proceeding to a community ratification in the spring of 2019.

However, on June 12, 2019, only days ago, the government reversed this commitment, advising these groups that Canada would not be giving their negotiators the authority to initial the agreements. This came as a shock, since the negotiators were already in Yellowknife on this date to continue these meetings.

After the government’s decision, the chief federal negotiator cancelled all scheduled meetings related to these negotiations. All further requests on behalf of these groups for subsequent meetings and clarification on this decision have been ignored.

Leader, I find this about-face very troubling. Throughout these negotiations, the Dene have relied on the assurances of Canada, in writing and in person, that it would proceed to initial the agreements notwithstanding ongoing consultations with Indigenous groups in the Northwest Territories, which began in December 2016. Canada and the Dene had a good faith understanding that further consultations with these groups would continue, including any necessary accommodations, but that those consultations would not affect Canada’s commitment to initial the agreements prior to the federal election.

I am curious as to why, after nearly 20 years of negotiations, Canada has refused to initial these agreements? If you are unsure, could you please look into this matter and provide us with a written response?

Hon. Peter Harder (Government Representative in the Senate): I thank the honourable senator for her question and I welcome, as all senators, her constituents to the gallery and to hear this question be placed directly.

I’m not informed on this matter and will make myself informed and respond, as the honourable senator has asked.

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