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February 2008

Vol. 13, No. 7 Week of February 17, 2008

Deh Cho oust grand chief; interim leader says Norwegian’s exit changes nothing for Mackenzie gas line

The most fervent advocate of aboriginal rights in the Northwest Territories — and, in the process, the toughest negotiator in the Mackenzie Gas Project — has been sidelined, but his community’s view of the proposed Arctic gas pipeline is apparently unchanged.

Herb Norwegian, grand chief of the Deh Cho First Nations, was unseated from a job he has held for five years in a 59-2 vote by delegates from 11 communities.

The Deh Cho region, which has yet to settle its land claim with the Canadian government, covers about 50 percent of the NWT and 40 percent of the proposed right of way for a Mackenzie pipeline.

Norwegian fell out of favor after pleading guilty in December to assaulting a woman for which a court sentenced him to one day in jail and 50 hours of community service.

The delegates discussed Norwegian’s future for two days, mostly behind closed doors.

“The more they talked about it the more it became evident that violence cannot be tolerated,” said Bill Erasmus, chief of the Dene Nation and the Assembly of First Nations NWT regional chief.

Kenya Norwegian, chief of the Liidlii First Nation and a cousin of Herb Norwegian, said she found the decisions “wrenching, yet necessary.”

Fred Carmichael, who often clashed with Norwegian in his role as chairman of the Aboriginal Pipeline Group which is seeking a one-third equity stake in the Mackenzie pipeline, said he hopes the Deh Cho can now pursue a different path.

He suggested the next leader needs to support resource development to ensure there is an economic legacy for future generations.

Carmichael did not share Norwegian’s view that blocking development would speed progress towards a land claim settlement.

Gerald Antoine, named Deh Cho interim chief until a new leader is chosen in June, wasted no time telling reporters the departure of Herb Norwegian will change nothing.

He said participating with northern aboriginal communities in the Mackenzie project under the terms offered to date is not a good deal and suggested that any change will have to come from the industry partners.

Accusing the companies of adopting a “dog-eat-dog approach,” Antoine said that is not the way Dene people operate.

He plans to ask other Deh Cho leaders what kind of development they support.

Imperial Oil, which heads the Mackenzie Gas Project, said events within the Deh Cho community should not hamper economic benefits and land access negotiations between the consortium and the Deh Cho.

—Gary Park






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