‘Like colonialism all over again’: Nahanni Butte band manager

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“Impractical” land use regulations imposed by the GNWT threaten to derail the Nahanni Butte Dene Band’s (NBDB) plans to forge a trapline along a proposed all-season mining road, the community’s band manager says.

“Like our chief said, this is like colonialism all over again,” said NBDB manager Mark Pocklington.

Mark Pocklington, band manager at Nahanni Butte, says plans to forge a trapline along a proposed mining road could be stalled due to lengthy wait times for “impractical” land use permits imposed by the GNWT.

On Feb.1, the territorial government’s department of justice issued a statement reminding the community there are “certain prescribed limitations to the creation of traplines in the Mackenzie Valley.”

In the release, the GNWT acknowledges the band’s treaty rights to “harvest in their traditional territory,” but says use of land in the Mackenzie Valley is still subject to the Mackenzie Valley Land Use Regulations. Specially, the government takes aim at the width of the planned trapline and the equipment that will be used in the process.

“… If the NBDB creates a trapline wider than 1.5 m or uses equipment or material listed in sections 4 and 5 of the Regulations, then a land permit will be required,” the letter states.

Regulations in Section 4 state “no person shall, without a … permit, carry on any activity that involves … the levelling, grading, clearing, cutting or snowploughing of a line, trail or right-of-way, other than a road or existing access trail to a building, that exceeds 1.5 m in width.” Section 5 states permits are also required for any activity that uses a vehicle weighing 5 tonnes or more.

While Pocklington says he doesn’t object to the government’s reinforcement of regulations that are already in place, he takes exception to the way the enforcement is being carried out.

“No one’s coming here and sitting down and talking to us about what makes practical sense,” said Pocklington, adding that it feels like government officials are waiting to “catch” band members doing something wrong.

“We were out there doing work in a field and it’s like they sent the land police out to supervise us like we’re some kind of criminals or something. That’s what the community really objects to,” said Pocklington.

In the same statement, the GNWT says the NBDB is “free to create a trapline as long as the proposed route does not trigger the need for a land use permit …” But, Pocklington says permit wait times are too long and too unclear.

“Well how long does (a permit) take? They don’t give you an answer, or they’ll say … within 60 to 90 days providing we get cooperation from all these different agencies – like what is this?,” he said.

Pocklington said by the time it takes to get a permit processed, “the seasons’ over.”

“We want to go out there and do something because the weather is ideal. If we wanted to do something, let’s say, next week, it’s impossible.”

As for the trapline itself, Pocklington says limited heavy machinery will be needed and the width wouldn’t exceed more than 1.7 metres at the most. But to clear snow in preparation for the project, snow cats and bulldozers – all weighing over 5 tonnes – are needed, meaning permits are, too.

“They say ‘no’ it has to go through a process, the Mackenzie Valley (Land and Water Board). A process to clear snow? This is our land,” he said.

In an email to News/North, GNWT lands department communications manager Toni Riley stated environmental factors are weighed by the board, but couldn’t comment further as department officials were tied up in meetings.

The board is a regulatory authority that stems from the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act, according to its website.

With lengthy wait times for land use permits, Pocklington says the regulations stand to disrupt the trapline project, setting back youth participation in the project.

“It involves a lot of kids. We have 25 youth here in the community and we want to put them to work on the land,” he said. “And we can’t even have access … because we just need to plow the snow.”

Despite the setback, NDBD Chief Peter Marcellais said the community is still forging forward.

“We’re still going to open up the trapline,” Marcellais said.

First, youth will take part in another trail project aimed at teaching kids about fishing, then, he said, it’s on to the trapline.

The trapline project, which Pocklington hopes to begin within the next few weeks, would run 80 kilometres from Nahanni Butte to Prairie Creek Road when complete.

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