In the early 1970ís, the Dene were informed by the Government of Canada that they were going to build a pipeline in the Deh Cho (Mackenzie River) valley. The Dene considered the actions by Canada to be a treaty violation.
When they tried to talk to Canada, the Dene were informed that the Treaties made in 1900 and 1921 were land surrender treaties. This was not the understanding of the Elders. Sixteen Chiefs filed legal action against Canada to protect their lands. At the heart of the case was the meaning of the Treaties. Canada asserted land surrender documents while the Elders asserted that the Treaties were peace and friendship.
Due to the time frame involved, there were many Elders who were present in 1920 at the reaffirmation and subsequently at the making of Treaty in 1921 and 1922 who could testify to the nature of the treaty making process. Mr. Justice Morrow heard testimony from the Dene Elders up and down the Deh Cho. It was the first major case heard in Canada that involved the gathering of evidence in the language of the Elders before a court.
The evidence was taken down leading Mr. Justice Morrow to question the validity of the Treaty. He concluded that there was enough evidence to convince him that these Treaties were not land surrender treaties and he recommended to Canada that they enter into negotiations with the Dene to clarify the rights to lands, resources and governance.