Canadian Indians given huge area in self-rule deal

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The Independent US

Canada has signed a treaty with the Dogrib Indians, giving them near-autonomy over a huge swath of land as large as Belgium and incorporating Canada's only two operating diamond mines.

The deal amounts to one of the most important transfers of power to an aboriginal people anywhere in the world. The Tli Cho agreement gives the 3,000-strong Dogrib tribe authority over 15,210 square miles of land lying between the Great Slave and Great Bear lakes in northern Canada.

After the treaty was signed inside a primary school gym, Jean Chrétien, the Canadian Prime Minister, said: "What we see today is that in spite of the evolution of society, you have kept your culture and pride. This is the glory of Canada - we can be what we are and at the same time be part of the greater Canada."

Alexis Arrowmaker, a tribal elder aged 83, said: "The promises that were made, they have been fulfilled. Whatever we asked for, they gave us."

The agreement echoes the creation in 1999 of Nunavut, handed over to Inuit control. Both treaties followed decades of negotiation between the tribes and the federal government in Ottawa.

The Dogrib are one of five tribes of the Dene people of northern Canada. The federal government will retain power in matters of criminal law, while the Northwest Territories will continue to look after services such as health and education. The Tli Cho government, founded by the Dogrib, will control hunting, fishing and industrial development. It will also be entitled to royalties from all resources on the land, which once flowed to Ottawa.

The Tli Cho government will be formed of councillors and chiefs who will be elected by the five Dogrib communities in the territory. Anyone who lives in the region will be free to vote and to run for office in the new government, but at least half of the councillors and the chief must be Dogrib.