The Tlicho Agreement: Looking Forward 10 Years Later

“Motivated to get these conscious decisions right for the future.” Chief Daniels at Thursday’s community feast.

Hundreds of Tlicho citizens from Gamèti, Wekweèti, and Whati have been travelling to Behchoko by land and water this week to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Tlicho Agreement.

The festivities, which began on August 4, will go on throughout the weekend. They are intended to celebrate Effective Day—the day ten years ago when the Tlicho nation officially gained self-governance.

“Ten years is very young as a government,” Behchoko Chief Clifford Daniels told EDGE as he was heading into a community feast on Thursday. “It’s a historic moment for us.”

The Tlicho Agreement

The Tlicho Land Claims and Self-Government Agreement was signed in August of 2003 and went into effect two years later. The agreement gives land, resources and self-government rights to the Tlicho people within their traditional territory.

The land, which was ceded by the Canadian government in 2005, comprises approximately 39,000 square kilometres, and roughly spans the area between the northwestern side of Great Slave Lake and Great Bear Lake. It also contains the communities of Behchoko, Gamèti, Wekweèti and Whati.

At the community feast held in Behchoko, former Grand Chief Joe Rabesca, who was part of the delegation that signed the treaty, highlighted the difficulties that marked negotiations between the Tlicho, the GNWT and the government of Canada.

“It wasn’t an easy process,” Rabesca told the crowd of elders and guests who were at the gathering.

Amongst the people who attended the meeting was NWT Premier Bob McLeod, who gave a speech that highlighted the importance of the agreement.

“The Tlicho people now have the tools to achieve self-determination and strengthen control over their lands and resources,” Premier McLeod said, before adding: “The establishment of the Tlicho government is a testament to how public and aboriginal governments can and will work in collaboration to ensure that the interests and rights of all people are protected.”

Looking ahead

Although the day was mainly focused on celebrating the past decade, Chief Daniels also showed his excitement for the nation’s future.

He told EDGE that he was focusing on helping Behchoko’s youth in the hopes of making the community stronger and healthier in the future.

One of the ways he hopes to achieve this is through a brand new $14 million sports centre, which is set to open in May 2016. The new building will host a youth centre as well as community offices, and will have a hockey arena and a gymnasium.

“I think that our leadership is working to create these tools to make it possible for the youth to make decisions for their generation and for future generations,” Daniels said. “We’re really motivated to get these conscious decisions right for the future.”

One Behchoko youth is already doing that.

24-year-old Mason Mantla was only a teenager when the agreement came into place in 2005. Ten years on, he sits on the board of the Wekeezhii Lands and Water Board, the organization that manages water and land resources in Tlicho territory.

He says he’s “gracious” to the elders who negotiated the agreement, and that he’s happy to see how the agreement has brought the community together.

“Because of them [the elders], us young leaders today are able to make change because they took that first step for us,“ Mantla said. “Working with the community and seeing all the changes that this agreement has brought is kind of overwhelming.”

Looking ten years down the line, he hopes other young people like him will use the teachings of their elders to become the Tlicho’s new leaders.

“In ten years I hope to see the youth in leadership positions being able to lead their people in ways we haven’t before, being able to take on responsibilities that are new to them, but also not forgetting their traditional skills,” Mantla said.

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