In the 1970s the Dene Nation worked on negotiating a land claim for all Dene regions. At that time, Canada did not recognize that Dene had a right to govern themselves. The Dene Nation disagreed, and insisted that their right to self-government existed. By 1990, Canada agreed that the Dene did have the right to what was then called “political self-determination”. Chapter 5 and Appendix B in the Sahtu land claim confirmed Canada’s obligation to negotiate self-government after the land claim was signed. The Sahtu Dene and Métis then signed their land claim in 1993.
When the community of Deline decided to negotiate a self-government agreement, the Deline Elders had strong views that the community should have one government to bring everyone together. This was based in part on the teachings of Prophet Ehtseo Ayah. The Elders believed that too many organizations were responsible for governing the community: a First Nation created by Canada’s Indian Act, the Land Corporation created under the Sahtu Land Claim, and a Charter Community created by the GNWT. The Elders believed that the community could be governed better and that people would work together better if there was one government. They also wanted to make sure that the one government would have more control over decision making in the community. This vision was supported by the community.
The community knew that to have one government, they would have to negotiate with Canada and the GNWT to change their current arrangement.
In 1995, the community started talks with Canada and the GNWT about self-government to work out the details of what they would negotiate. In 1996, they signed a Process and Schedule Agreement, describing a schedule for negotiations and the subject matters to be discussed.
Then, between 1996 and 2003, Deline, Canada and the GNWT negotiated the Self-Government Agreement-in-Principle. The Agreement–in-Principle, signed in Deline on August 23, 2003, described major parts of the self-government agreement—the new government model, its main responsibilities, and how its authorities would work with the authorities of GNWT and Canada—but did not include all the details.
The Agreement-in-Principle was signed by the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs of the GNWT, the Chief of the Deline Dene Band and the President of the Deline Land Corporation. This agreement, in effect, represents an important community approval of the Indigenous/public government model.
After the Agreement-in-Principle was signed, Deline, Canada and the GNWT began to negotiate the Final Self-Government Agreement (FSGA). This included discussions about how self-government would be financed, what the parties must do to make sure the agreement would work the way it is supposed to, and how the self-government agreement and the land claim would work together. At that time the Deline Self-Government Team held a series of workshops where community members developed a community constitution.
The negotiators always kept in mind that almost half of Deline’s First Nation members and land claim beneficiaries live outside of Deline, most of whom live in Yellowknife. In 2010, a Yellowknife office was established that was responsible for making sure that Deline members and beneficiaries living outside of Deline were aware of the agreement and could ask questions and get answers and information.
On December 19, 2013, the Deline First Nation, Deline Land Corporation, and the governments of Canada and the NWT initialled the Deline Final Self-Government Agreement. This is the document that laid the groundwork for Deline self-government.
Before the agreement could be finalized, it had to be approved by the members of the Deline First Nation, as well as Deline beneficiaries of the Sahtu land claim, through a ratification vote. On March 12, 2014, the eligible voters—roughly half of whom lived outside of the community of Deline—voted overwhelmingly to approve the final agreement: 84% of eligible voters said yes.
Following this ratification, the territorial and federal governments also had to approve the agreement and pass legislation to recognize it. Both governments passed laws recognizing the Deline Self-Government Agreement in 2015. In September 2015, the Deline First Nation, Deline Land Corporation and Deline Charter Community began the process of preparing to dissolve, and to merge their functions within the Deline Got’ine Government. The Deline Gotine Government began operating on September 1, 2016 and is now the one government that the Elders envisioned.
For more information on the Deline self-government ratification campaign and the transition to the DGG, see the archived Our Deline website.