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Land withdrawal a 'win-win,' says Yellowknives Dene chief

Jason Unrau
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Nov 08/06) - The city will get title to the dump, Tin Can Hill, Bristol Pit and land between Kam Lake industrial park and the airport under a new agreement between the territorial government and regional First Nations.
NNSL Photo/graphic

Gerald Read, chief negotiator for the territorial government, shows a map indicating 1,034 hectares of Commissioner's land withdrawn for the Akaitcho First Nation within Yellowknife city limits. - Jason Unrau/NNSL photo

The long and winding road

One hundred years to the day from the adhesions to Treaty 8 signed at Fort Resolution in 1899, the Akaitcho Dene First Nation, Canada and the GNWT sign an agreement establishing the process, items and timetable for negotiations.

June 28, 2001
Interim Measures Agreement and Schedules: The Akaitcho Interim Measures Agreement (IMA) is signed by the three parties at Lutsel K'e, establishing temporary arrangements that clarify the role of ATFN in resource management decisions. What followed was a series of IMA schedules detailing consultation with ATFN with respect to Commissioner's and Crown lands, forest management, land use permits and water licenses.

September 2001
Formal negotiations of the Akaitcho Agreement-in-Principle begin; a major step toward clarifying who owns and has rights and resources within Akaitcho territory.

November 27, 2002
Akaitcho/Tlicho Boundary Agreement: Leaders of both First Nation groups sign a boundary agreement in Behchoko addressing matters relating to overlap of traditional territories and how it relates to land, resources and wildlife management.

February 23, 2004
Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs provides policy direction to the Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board to clarify Akaitcho IMA and provide guidance for implementation.

November 21, 2005
Interim Land Withdrawal Protocol: Protocol is signed by negotiators for three parties. Once land is identified, the GNWT and federal government will ensure no further land sales, leases or other types of land dispositions take place in withdrawn areas for a specific period of time.

November 2, 2006
Interim withdrawal of Commissioner's land in Yellowknife: The ADFN and GNWT announce they have reached agreement on interim land withdrawal of 1034 hectares of Commissioner's Land within the City of Yellowknife for a period of five years. This agreement forms part of an out-of-court resolution to a legal action brought by ATFN against the GNWT and allows the parties to resume Akaitcho Process negotiations.

The withdrawal agreement between the government and Akaitcho Territory First Nations (ATFN) was announced Nov. 2 and should settle ongoing disputes over development between the city and Yellowknives Dene.

The deal identifies 1,034 hectares of Commissioner's Land within city limits for possible selection by the Yellowknives Dene. It also identifies about 600 acres of land that will be transferred to the city.

While the bulk of the lands withdrawn by the Akaitcho comprises the "Sand Pits" near the airport, and more than 900 hectares of undeveloped land west of the city, it also includes the north end of Frame Lake Trail, Yellowknife Ski Club grounds and Jolliffe Island, where numerous houseboats are moored.

"(The land selection that includes) the ski club could be for cultural activities," said Dettah Chief Peter Liske yesterday.

Criteria for selection included: for harvesting and medicinal purposes; ecologically sensitive areas; watershed protection; and those lands required for economic, residential, social, cultural or spiritual interests, said Liske.

"We see a lot of concerns in the Yellowknife area with long-term leases and once the process is completed we'll be looking (at them)," added Liske.

At the press conference to announce the land withdrawal, representatives for ATFN and the territorial government made it clear withdrawal was not out-and-out land selection.

Land included in the withdrawal would be subject to existing agreements but is off-limits to further development for a period of five years, or until a land claim deal with the ATFN, which includes the Yellowknives Dene, is settled.

Kevin McLeod, vice-president of the Yellowknife Ski Club, said discussions with territorial and municipal governments are ongoing and that Municipal and Community Affairs has given assurances that the lease between the club and the city - until 2026 - would be honoured.

"Whenever you don't know the entire future there's potential for concern," said McLeod. "A lot of people have invested a lot of time and effort into the ski club and they're quite concerned about protecting their investment."

Mayor Gord Van Tighem said the withdrawal has kept negotiations out of the courts but what will happen with respect to municipal development plans in the future remains to be seen.

"At this point it's either a possibility of conflict or a possibility of working together," said Van Tighem.

"The key thing is this provides us a certainty and the Akaitcho have certainty that at the point of time they get around to land selection, there is land available and the land that hasn't been withdrawn, there is an indication that it would be available for development as required.

"So the bottom line is it's a good thing for everybody."

For the past several years Yellowknives Dene have expressed discord over land transfers from the GNWT to the city without the First Nations' consent.

Van Tighem views the land withdrawal as an alternative to dealing with the matter in the courts.

In the meantime, Liske remains confident a workable arrangement can be made between all parties involved, including the city.

"(Ndilo) Chief Fred Sangris and I will participate with other Akaitcho leaders and make decisions on what's best for us," said Liske.

"(As for the land withdrawal in the city and the future) I think it's a win-win situation for everybody."

Deninu Kue and Lutsel K'e Dene First Nations are also part of the Akaitcho Process.