Canadian tribe gets rights

Published: Tuesday 30 September 2003

after about 12 years of negotiations, the Dogrib tribe -- an indigenous community belonging to Canada's western Arctic region -- has finally obtained self-rule rights over 38,850 square kilometres (km) of land. The area lies between Great Slave lake and Great Bear lake in the country's northern region.

In a historic settlement signed in August-end, Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien devolved to the Dogribs broad-ranging powers to preserve their culture, govern themselves and collect tax revenue. The agreement confers upon them the inherent right to own their land. It also authorises the tribals to elect local council members and chiefs. The tribe gets to control hunting, fishing and industrial development as well. The federal government will, however, continue to handle criminal law, health and education.

Significantly, the authority to collect resource royalties, including those from two diamond mines on their land, has been vested in the Dogribs. "If any type of natural resources -- including oil, gas and diamonds -- are found on our land, we will receive the entire royalty," reveals John B Zoe, the tribal negotiator.

Under the pact, the Dogribs will be paid us $108 million over 15 years. The new territory would also share energy development revenue from the resource-rich Mackenzie Valley. The us $4-billion Mackenzie Valley project, which includes ownership by a consortium of aboriginal groups, is a planned 1287-km pipeline for transporting natural gas to us markets.

The Washington Post reported that the agreement could make the community one of the richest First Nation groups in North America. "On this land the Dogribs will own the resources, which will help them to strengthen their economy and culture," pointed out Chretien.

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