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Ottawa Strong Armed Akaitcho into Relinquishing Valuable Lands

Ottawa 'strong-armed' Akaitcho in land claim: Bevington

Last Updated: Thursday, May 17, 2007 | 3:16 PM CT

CBC News

The federal government forced the Akaitcho Dene First Nations into not claiming areas where exploration companies want to look for uranium, Western Arctic NDP MP Dennis Bevington alleged Thursday.

Bevington says a document he obtained through an access to information request shows that federal negotiators strong-armed the Akaitcho to withdraw land claims on sacred land in the Thelon Basin, an area in the easternmost section of the Northwest Territories.

In the document, a briefing note dated Aug. 11, 2006, to Indian and Northern Affairs Minister Jim Prentice on the status of Akaitcho process negotiations, an official wrote that the Akaitcho agreed to exclude the Thelon Basin land because "this addresses Canada's significant interest to allow the continuation of uranium exploration in the Basin."

Although the Mackenzie Valley Environmental Review Board recently rejected one company's bid to look for uranium in the Thelon Basin, it is ultimately up to Prentice to decide whether to accept or reject the review board's recommendation.

"I'm frustrated and angry that the Akaitcho people have been strong-armed to give up their rights to sacred land," Bevington said in a release Thursday.

Bevington said given the statement in the briefing note, he is worried that it's a signal Prentice may not respect the review board's recommendation.

"The spirit and intent of the legislation on the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act is to give northerners a say over the development of their land and the resources," Bevington said at a news conference Thursday in Ottawa.

"That's what it's there for. Not to impose even further federal controls over the direction that development is occurring. Not to leave the North open to rapacious action by companies that want to move ahead with quick development with the support of their political cronies."

In a decision dated May 7, the review board turned down Ur-Energy Inc.'s application to conduct exploratory drilling near the Thelon Basin. The board cited the potential for significant and irreversible cultural impact on the Dene of Lutsel K'e, which is part of the Akaitcho, in rejecting the company's bid.

Bevington urged Prentice to respect the review board's decision, and called on northern leaders of all political stripes to meet this summer to discuss how to take control of their land and resources.

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