Land lock
GNWT policy subverts city's control over its own land

by Richard Gleeson
Northern News Services

NNSL (Aug 29/97) - The stalled siting of the new community centre is the first sign of a city land lock-up that will remain in effect until area land claims are settled.

To ensure pending land claims in the NWT are not compromised by development, five years ago the territorial government introduced a new policy governing the fate of Crown land in the NWT, property also known as commissioner's land.

"The GNWT will exclude certain Crown lands in communities within the Dene/Metis Settlement Area from public disposition by way of sale..." directs the land-lease-only policy.

Roughly 90 per cent of the undeveloped property within city limits is commissioner's land. Prior to the introduction of the policy, acquiring the land was little more than a formality. Currently, the city pays a fee of approximately $250 per acre for it.

Under the lease-only policy, the only large parcel of undeveloped commissioner's land the city does not own and can still acquire is Tin Can Hill, the greenspace at the end of School Draw Avenue.

Acquisition of all other lands by the city requires consent of each of the three aboriginal groups with claims pending, or permission of the territorial cabinet.

Judging from the city's account of discussions concerning the Twin Pine Hill site, getting consent can be as easy as asking, or as difficult as entering an extensive negotiation.

Dogrib Treaty 11 Chief Joe Rabesca responded to the city's request for Twin Pine Hill with a letter granting it.

Formal discussions of potential locations with Treaty 8 chiefs Darrell Beaulieu and Jonas Sangris began in February, said Yellowknife Mayor Dave Lovell.

"Twin Pine Hill was actually the preferred site to start with," recalled Lovell. "The negotiations have gone from 'We want this site, now what can we do to help?' to 'What are you going to pay us for this site?'"

The mayor said the city agreed to give Treaty 8 the right to run the arena concession booth and a grant for use of the facility.

The snag, said Lovell, occurred when the city was asked to support boundaries to land the Yellowknives Dene are claiming.

"That we cannot do," said Lovell. "We have no interest outside of the city limits, and the land claim they are asking us to support goes well beyond city limits."

Beaulieu and Sangris were at a meeting in Edmonton and unavailable for comment.

Deadline for tenders for the construction of the facility closed on Friday, said Lovell, but the contract will not be awarded because no land has been acquired.

"If something happens in the next week or two, we can do something," said the mayor. "If not, we're really stuck."

The planned completion date of next fall will likely be pushed back a year if site preparation is delayed past this summer, he said.

The shrinking city

Yellowknife will shrink when the Treaty 8 land claim negotiations are concluded, but where and by how much are questions yet to be answered.

In a letter to the city dealing with the proposed site for the new community centre, Treaty 8 chiefs Darrell Beaulieu and Jonas Sangris say Twin Pine Hill is "a portion of the lands we have selected for negotiations with the federal government."

In the Aug. 11 letter, Beaulieu and Sangris indicate more land is identified within the city.

The chiefs note that one of their requests in negotiations for the Twin Pine site was that council "provide a written guarantee that they would withdraw from the lands currently under the city municipality that are contained in the proposed community boundary."

The GNWT's deputy minister for aboriginal affairs, Bob Overvold, said lands claimed by the Yellowknives will likely not be officially identified until next year.

"We're just trying to negotiate a framework agreement, setting out the matters that can be negotiated and time frames for various stages of the negotiation," said Overvold.