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The Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples with Northwest Territories Premier Bob McLeod. The committee met with local leaders in Yellowknife on Monday to gather testimony on a new relationship between Canada and First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples. (Senate of Canada/Jade Thériault) The chair and CEO of the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation told senators Monday that Canada’s wealth is being "held hostage" in the Arctic.

Duane Smith made his comments concerning the moratorium on oil and gas exploration in the Beaufort Sea at a meeting in Yellowknife with members of the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples. The committee is on a Northern fact-finding tour.

"It’s made industry reluctant to consider any type of exploration or development within that area because there’s uncertainty of what the government wants to do," he said. "So industry will go and invest in other regions and that takes away opportunity and investment within Canada." Duane Smith, chair and CEO of the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation, right, says Canada needs to work with communities to implement land claims. (Senate of Canada/Jade Thériault) Smith also said Canada needs to work with communities to implement land claims and that across the country there’s a lack of understanding about the vastness and diversity of the North.

"I flew 11,000 kilometres south [for this meeting]," he said.

N.W.T. Premier Bob McLeod echoed Smith’s sentiment that the rest of Canada doesn’t always understand the North, pointing to the fact that many Indigenous peoples don’t live on reserves.

"That’s something that we constantly face from the federal government where … programs usually stop on [the] reserve and so a lot of times they miss us people up here in the northern territories," he said. ‘Flabbergasted’

Senator Lillian Dyck, who chaired the meeting, said she was struck by the complexities of the territory. She said they were "flabbergasted" by K’atl’odeeche First Nation Chief Roy Fabian’s description of how his reserve is treated differently than reserves in the South. The First Nation, near Hay River, is on one of the territory’s two reserves.

Fabian said there are big gaps in housing and health because of the "cloudy" relationship between the K’atl’odeeche First Nation and the federal government. He said there’s never been a direct fiscal relationship between the two governments, leaving some people to fall through the cracks when it comes to housing and health.

"I think we were really quite flabbergasted when we heard Chief Fabian speaking about Treaty 8 and the Hay River First Nation," she said.

Dyck also noted newly elected Dehcho First Nations Grand Chief Gladys Norwegian’s testimony about the importance of young people being immersed in their culture. Senator Lillian Dyck says she was struck by the complexities of the Northwest Territories. (Emily Blake/CBC ) Sherry Hodgson, president of the Norman Wells Land Corporation, and corporation director Ethel Blondin-Andrew also testified about the importance of the Mackenzie Valley Highway and the need for addictions programming.

Finally Garry Bailey, president of the Northwest Territory Métis Nation, said he wants to come to a final agreement on negotiations with the government and for Canada to compensate the nation for the loss of traditional hunting rights after the establishment of Wood Buffalo National Park.

Bailey said Canada has not treated Métis equally, something that’s needed for a nation-to-nation relationship.

"I would just like the people to realize that the Métis have been here for hundreds of years, we’re not going anywhere. We want to have our claim right here and we want to work together with First Nations and government so that we can co-exist together and share these lands." Garry Bailey, president of the Northwest Territory Métis Nation, says that Métis […]

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