Fred Sangris, former Ndilo chief and community negotiator for the Yellowknives Dene First Nation, says a long awaited Akaitcho settlement agreement could come to a final vote by next year as they are in the “final stages of negotiations.”
The negotiations, which have been going on for nearly 20 years, are expected to produce an agreement-in-principle some time soon to settle land claims covering more than 62,000 square kilometres across a large swath of the eastern half of the Northwest Territories and portions of northern Alberta and Nunavut.
The Yellowknives Dene, who are a part of the Akaitcho Process, have claimed about 10 square kilometres of land within Yellowknife. Sangris broke the news of a pending agreement during a council committee meeting Monday.
Sangris said the Indigenous group was supposed to reach an agreement-in-principle by May but there were a few outstanding issues, including taxation powers, governance, fisheries and water rights.
After an agreement-in-principal is reached, Sangris said it will take eight to 12 months for there to be a review and a vote by the Akaitcho Dene before being sent to Ottawa to be finalized.
When the deal is signed, the NWT Treaty 8 Tribal Corporation will be disbanded and a “secretariat” position will be created. This non-political body will perform administrative functions over the three districts of the Akaitcho: Ndilo/Dettah (Yellowknives Dene First Nation), Lutsel K’e and Fort Resolution.
Sangris said Ndilo and Dettah will “be brought under one roof,” meaning Ndilo will no longer be within the municipality of Yellowknife and will be able to receive government funding.
Though negotiations tend to slow down when there are elections and “certain” governments are in power that are more focused on the economy than settling First Nation grievances, Sangris said he doesn’t want this to go on for another 20 years.
“It’s been a long haul for us,” said Sangris. “Canada is really going to have to work with us so we can settle our claims, settle our grievances so we can go on with our lives and start building our homes.”
An Akaitcho boom
Sangris also shared the Yellowknives’ vision of the future for their members and partnerships with the City of Yellowknife.
“I hope that in the future as we progress and Yellowknives Dene reach their goal we become good neighbours and build a good relationship with the city,” said Sangris.
“When the settlement is completed this will open the door for our relationships with the City of Yellowknife and those who make their homes here as well.”
Sangris said once the Akaitcho Process is settled, Akaitcho Dene will get part of the money back that was extracted through resource development and there will be a “boom” in Yellowknife construction.
“We’re not going to Hawaii to spend this money,” said Sangris. “This is home, this is where we will spend it.”
Sangris said his people do not want to be put on reserves. They want to be paying taxes, working steady jobs and starting businesses of their own.
He spoke about having Yellowknives trappers being trained to guide tours, cultural institutions, such as a museum being built, and getting Yellowknives members hired and working in various jobs.
“What I don’t see is my people being hired in different areas,” said Sangris. “There has to be opportunity here. Our people are from here yet we are the poorest. We want to put everyone to work and eliminate income assistance for our people. We’re going to put these people to work and no longer go to the government of Canada for handouts.”
With several hundred Yellowknives working in the mining industry, Sangris said his people are open to mining, just not in environmentally or culturally sensitive areas.
He also stipulated they do not want mines within one kilometre of Great Slave Lake. There is also a need for housing for “around 200 members” so Sangris said this land would be “fee simple” and entirely owned by Yellowknives Dene. This would open up the possibility for members to get mortgages on the land and allow development.
Sangris said there are plans to build 300 homes outside city limits past the airport or across Yellowknife Bay.
“Yellowknives are here, we’re going to continue working with the city in the future,” he said.
Sangris said the Yellowknives Dene are going to help celebrate the City of Yellowknife in the future. Initially they were not able to plan with the city while they sorted out negotiations.
“Now we are ready,” said Sangris.