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Tulita Chief Frank Andrew, left, Dene National Chief Bill Erasmus and Sahtu Dene Council member Frederick Kenny share a laugh at the Dene Nation leadership meeting this week. The meeting wrapped up Thursday with renewed calls for more Indigenous say in how federal funding is spent. (Kirsten Murphy/CBC) Closing remarks at the Dene Leadership meeting in Fort Providence shared similar themes — the Dene Nation has made progress in 50 years, but members must continue to pressure Ottawa to protect the Dene rights to land, provide more financial transparency and improve policing.

The meeting, which ran Tuesday to Thursday, was a turning point for chiefs who have questioned the Dene Nation’s relevance in the past.

"We are at that point where doors are starting to open," said Kakisa Chief Lloyd Chicot. Kakisa Chief Lloyd Chicot, left, and Jean Marie Chief Stan Sanguez attend the Dene Nation leadership meeting. (Kirsten Murphy/CBC) There was a time when Jean Marie River Chief Stanley Sanguez did not attend such meetings.

"This is the first time in 20 years that I see the Dene Nation binding together," he said.

"I finally found that the Dene Nation really works when it comes to these national issues that have been bothering us for 40 years."

However, Sanguez said improvements to affirmative action policies remain a concern in the Dehcho region.

While the leadership meeting was underway, the 2018 federal budget was tabled in Ottawa. Several Dene leaders present said money promised for northern communities is evidence of Ottawa’s commitment to reconciliation . Participants in the Dene Nation leadership meeting pose for a photo in Fort Providence this week. (Kirsten Murphy/CBC) Dene National Chief Bill Erasmus agreed, but said more money means more pressure on how that money will be spent.

A motion was passed requesting a meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and federal officials.

"There is going to be lots of money coming to the North," said Erasmus.

"Together, the legislative assembly and the chiefs here around this table should decide what happens to that money. So we need to have this discussion at the highest level."

Erasmus expects the meeting to occur prior to his departure as national chief this summer. He announced previously this week he will not seek re-election . Uncomfortable exchange

Despite the goodwill, there were some tense moments.

An uncomfortable exchange between Salt River First Nation Chief Frieda Martselos and fisheries biologist Stephen Haayen ensued over the length of his presentation.

He was speaking slowly through his summary of Bill C-68, and its proposed changes to the federal fisheries act, so interpreters could keep up.

Forty minutes into his presentation, Martselos complained it was too long, a point later shared by other chiefs.

The chair asked the biologist to conclude, which he did.Gwich’in Tribal Council president Richard Nerysoo suggested a compromise for future presenters of technical reports: provide a plain language summary that is simple for the interpreters and delegates to follow. When RCMP G Division Commanding Officer Jamie Zettler, right, was asked about the police being more culturally sensitive when responding violent and tragic deaths in the communities, Zettler said: “We try to be, but we are not always successful." Dene National Chief Bill Erasmus is pictured in the middle. (Kirsten Murphy/CBC) Martselos and members of her council left the three-day meeting a day early in protest of an RCMP presentation on Thursday."Salt River has a non-relationship right now with the RCMP, and many of you in this room should too," she said."There are a lot of issues with the RCMP and how our people are treated by the RCMP, not only in the Northwest Territories, but across Canada."RCMP G Division Commanding Officer […]

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