A chief negotiator with the Akaitcho process says an economic boom will come to Yellowknife once the process is settled. And a settlement could be just around the corner.
“This town, for sure, is going to be booming when Akaitcho settles, because then they’ll have a lot of money to play with,” Fred Sangris told Yellowknife city council Monday. Sangris says $50 billion was taken from Akaitcho territory.
Since a framework agreement was signed in 2000, the Yellowknives Dene First Nation (Dettah and Ndilo), Lutsel K’e Dene First Nation (Lutsel K’e) and Deninu K’ue First Nation (Fort Resolution) have been working towards a final settlement which will cover land, resources and self-government.
A final agreement could be coming soon, Sangris told councillors. An Agreement In Principle (AIP) was meant to be signed in May, however, there are some outstanding issues include taxation, governance and fisheries. A total of 27 chapters of the AIP have already been agreed to.
Sangris says he hopes an eight-month consultation process will start soon involving the city, residents and YKDFN members. After this members of the Akaitcho nations, around 2,000 eligible voters, will vote on whether to accept the agreement. He hopes the vote will happen within eight to 12 months from now.
Laying out the vision for what could happen once the agreement is signed, Sangris says the YKDFN are not interested in acquiring lands held by private owners. “We’re not going to go after individuals and get those lands back, instead we’re going to look at what’s available with the city.”
Just over 1,000 hectares (10 square kilometres) of land within city boundaries would be transferred to YKDFN once the agreement is signed. Sangris says the land would likely be used for commercial development involving YKDFN’s economic development arm, the Det’on Cho Corporation.
Some lands within the city acquired by YKDFN may become home to institutions such as a ‘Dene cultural institution’ to showcase information and artifacts from local Dene communities. Mining and tourism are two industries of interest Sangris added. Sangris mentioned the interest in involving local trappers, hunters and storytellers in the tourism industry.
“We do support mining, but not too close to our community,” Sangris added, expressing the nation’s support for the industry as long as ecological and cultural effects are considered.
“We must be careful not to put any mines around this beautiful lake. If you’re within one kilometre of the lakeshore, you should never do it. You’re going to end up with Giant Mine and Con Mine in the future. This lake is so sensitive.”
The settlement would entail a boom for the city and for the people of YKDFN, Sangris says, adding he hopes to see a lot of the settlement funding put into training. “We are the people here, but we’re still living in poverty,” he says of the current situation. “Many of my people are, I’m not going to say homeless, but many of my people are not doing well. The economy in the City of Yellowknife is happening all over, but what I don’t see is my people being hired in different areas.”
Once in control of their lands under the agreement, YKDFN will be turning these lands into fee simple possession governed by chief and council. This would make it easier for individuals to get loans to build homes, for example. However, the land would be called ‘Dene title land’ and governed by chief and council to ensure they are not sold away from the nation.
Despite a ‘really rough’ relationship with the city in the past, Sangris reiterated the view of the two parties as ‘partners and neighbours.’ He pointed to the collaboration between the Squamish Nation and the District of Squamish, B.C. as an example of how the two can work together.
Sangris says members of the Akaitcho process would ‘rather negotiate than litigate.’ Four generations of Sangris’ own family have been working on the claim. “As you know, it’s been a long haul. I started as a teenager and now going on to 62, I want to complete this before I start using the cane,” he laughed. However, if the process fails to result in a final agreement, Sangris says it could become an Aboriginal title case.