Canada gives Dogirb Indians land that includes diamond mines

Canada’s prime minister Jean Chretien signed a land claim and self-governance deal with the country’s 3,000 Dogrib Indians, characterizing the move as a “strengthening of Canada’s federation,” The Associated Press reports.

The deal, signed Monday, Aug. 25, sees the Dogrib assume control over 15,210 square miles of lake, river and tundra between Great Slave and Great Bear lakes in northern Canada’s Northwest Territories—an area larger than Belgium that includes both of Canada’s diamond mines, the AP reports. In addition to ownership of the area’s resources and significant control over their development, the agreement also contains unique provisions for the Dogrib to govern themselves.

Chretien praised the Tli Cho agreement between the federal government, the Northwest Territories and the Dogrib tribe.

“What we see today is that in spite of the evolution of society, you have kept your culture and pride,” Chretien said. “This is the glory of Canada — we can be what we are and at the same time be part of the greater Canada.”

The four Dogrib communities will elect councilors and chiefs, the AP reports. Anyone may run and vote, but at least half the councilors and the chief must be Dogrib.

The chiefs and some councilors will form the Tli Cho government to oversee the entire area, the first new government in the North since the 1999 creation of Nunavut.

The federal government will retain control of criminal law and the Northwest Territories government will keep powers over services such as health and education. Tli Cho laws will not be allowed to conflict with laws passed by other governments.

The Tli Cho will control hunting, fishing and industrial development, the AP reports. The aboriginal government will be eligible for a share of revenues from extensive energy development along the Mackenzie Valley and will be entitled to all royalties on resources from its own lands — royalties that currently go to Ottawa.

Existing land ownership and use will still be honored under the new agreement, which is expected to come into force in the spring after it has been ratified by Parliament and the Northwest Territories legislature.

The Dogrib are one of five tribes of the Dene people of northern Canada.