The Intergovernmental Council of the Northwest Territories announced a new protocol Wednesday for developing land and resource legislation.
The council, comprising leaders from the GNWT and nine Indigenous governments, developed an agreement that grants the territorial government and Indigenous leaders equal decision-making power on land and resource management.
“The protocol recognizes that we are co-governing on this territory,” Premier Caroline Cochrane said at a press conference announcing the agreement. “The GNWT is not the higher government. We are equal at the table. That is the message that we want to carry forward as we continue this work.”
In the past, the GNWT held a “duty to consult” Indigenous governments but always maintained final say. Whether or not Indigenous governments agreed, “we had consulted, we had done our job,” Cochrane said. “This protocol says that we will actually sit at the table, and we will pen things together.”
The premier said the new legislative development protocol, which takes effect immediately, is the first of its kind in the country. The collaborative approach to development supports the United Nations Declarations on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP) and reflects the territory’s “commitment to reconciliation, she said.
Since the protocol is groundbreaking, Cochrane said the parties will be reviewing the new legislation regularly to ensure it continues to “meet the needs and the intent of all governments moving forward.”
Garry Bailey, president of the Northwest Territory Métis Nation, called the NWT “leaders in the country” for the new legislation.
“I think that other governments around the world can learn from what we’ve done,” he said. “We’re not against development. We are conservationists, for sure, but we’re not against moving on and developing our territory.
“Before, it was just taken and shoved down our throats,” said Bailey. “It’s no longer like that.”
Cochrane admits having equal decision making power will lead to challenging disagreements between the governing bodies but that “if we’re going to do this partnership in honesty, then we have to be ready to have those hard discussions,” and agree to “sit and meet until we come to a consensus.”
Tlicho Grand Chief George Mackenzie said the protocol is “setting a path for real collaboration and real consensus decision-making on these important matters.”
Indigenous governments taking their “rightful place at the lawmaking table” has been a work in progress for decades, said Mackenzie.
“This protocol is a model for all Canadians and shows how Indigenous people can take the rightful place in developing laws that effect the land and the resources,” he said. “It shows how public government can embrace that partnership and recognize that fully including Indigenous government is in everyone’s interests.”