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Residents of Cassidy Point ­ a small community off the Ingraham Trail ­ are being offered the chance to purchase their properties on crown land currently leased from the GNWT. - Meagan Leonard/NNSL photo

Dene Nation disputes Cassidy Point offer
GNWT offers residents option to purchase their properties; No sales on areas without land-claim, says Bill Erasmus

Meagan Leonard
Northern News Services
Monday, August 31, 2015

The Dene Nation is contesting a decision by the GNWT to offer Cassidy Point residents ownership of their properties.

Cassidy Point is a small neighbourhood off the Ingraham Trail approximately 20 kilometres outside Yellowknife. Previously existing as commissioners land, lots were leased from the territorial government for cottage use but over the years it has evolved to include full-time residential occupants.

Dene National Chief Bill Erasmus told News/North property should not be sold while land-claim negotiations are still underway. He said the decision needs to be postponed until the Yellowknives Dene and Akaitcho Territory have agreed to the process.

"There's a whole legal question here," he said. "I'm wanting to make sure all the bases have been covered and the First Nations are satisfied because this is an alienation of land. It's taking these lands out of Š negotiations so they are no longer on the table and if that's the case, are the Yellowknives Dene being compensated?"

Erasmus said he has sent at letter to Premier Bob McLeod outlining his concerns.

"Our understanding has always been that where negotiations are taking place, land shouldn't be turned over to anyone until there's a clear understanding on how to proceed," he said. "It's in the Yellowknives Dene territory and at some point (our) government is going to be recognized."

Department of Lands spokesperson Leslie Campbell told Yellowknifer the GNWT sent letters to the applicable aboriginal governments in December of 2014 but received no response.

"The Akaitcho Dene First Nation, Tlicho Government, Northwest Territory Métis Nation and North Slave Métis Alliance were asked to provide concerns or comments within 60 days," she stated in an e-mail. "This letter was also copied to the Yellowknives Dene First Nation Chiefs. No responses were received."

Long-standing commitment

Cassidy Point/Prosperous Lake Association president Sandra Turner told Yellowknifer the government made a commitment in 1992 to award residents ownership.

In 2013 community members reached the application process; however, assessments were put on hold during devolution while the file was transferred from the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs to the lands department.

Turner said residents now have until Oct. 23 to submit their applications for ownership, then each lot will be inspected and if all regulations are adhered to, the leaseholder will be provided a sale agreement. Turner said she does not know how many residents have applied.

Once ownership is awarded, buyers will own the land and any dwellings on it and be allowed to sell or lease the property, Campbell stated in an e-mail.

The purchase price of each property will be assessed individually as the 41 lots range in size and value, from seasonal cabins to $600,000 residential homes.

Turner said the community is excited to be nearing the end of the process and they are hopeful it will come to fruition this time.

"Everybody is happy that it's finally got to this point. We were here once before two years ago so we'll see if we can get past this," she said. "People are pleased to be offered title for sure."

She said being able to mortgage their homes will give residents a better sense of financial security. She added the lease system didn't really make sense when people were living out there full time.

"Leases are supposed to be recreational only," she said. "This allows the property to be residential and that's what has happened anyways over the years; people are living out there. If you have a house that's worth four, five, or six (hundred) thousand dollars it's pretty hard not to have financing on it."

Turner said it will also alleviate the stress of dealing with lease regulations, which she said have changed multiple times over the years.

"With (ownership), the terms will remain the same forever and you know what you're into," she said. "It's not something that's open to change."

Campbell said those who do not wish to purchase will be able to continue leasing their property from the GNWT.

"Existing leaseholders who do not wish to pursue (ownership) can continue under the terms and conditions of their existing lease agreement," she explained. "Lease terms vary between 20 and 30 years."

A moratorium remains in place on new recreational leases in areas along Highway 3 and the Ingraham Trail until September 2016. The department is currently assessing new areas suitable for leasing or sale.

The sale of land in any unsettled Aboriginal land, resources and self-government Agreement area requires consultation with affected Aboriginal organizations and Cabinet approval. The Government of the Northwest Territories consulted with affected Aboriginal organizations in December of 2014 about offering existing leaseholders at Cassidy Point the opportunity to pursue fee simple title. This was done in accordance with the Akaitcho Interim Measures Agreement, which is to provide a 60-day consultation period. The Akaitcho Dene First Nation, Tlicho Government, Northwest Territory Métis Nation and North Slave Métis Alliance were asked to provide concerns or comments within 60 days. This letter was also copied to the Yellowknives Dene First Nation Chiefs. No responses were received. 

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