The Tłı̨chǫ Government wants Yellowknife land acknowledgements to include a reference to the Tłı̨chǫ, a suggestion the Yellowknives Dene First Nation says is “an overreach.”
In a news release late last week, the Tłı̨chǫ Government asserted that land acknowledgements in the city should recognize “Yellowknife is part of Mǫwhì Gogha Dè Nı̨ı̨tłèè, the traditional territory of the Tłı̨chǫ.”
The Tłı̨chǫ argue that the area set out by Chief Monfwi during the signing of Treaty 11 in 1921, as recounted by an Elder during the Berger Inquiry some half a century later, included “a land boundary starting from Fort Providence, all along the Mackenzie River, right up to Great Bear Lake, then across to Contwoyto Lake … Snowdrift, along the Great Slave Lake, back to Fort Providence.”
As described, that would encompass Yellowknife and the surrounding area.
“Chief Monfwi’s description of Mǫwhì Gogha Dè Nı̨ı̨tłèè reflects the long history that the Tłı̨chǫ have with the land in the Yellowknife area,” the Tłı̨chǫ Government statement continued.
“Mǫwhì Gogha Dè Nı̨ı̨tłèè translates to ‘the line that Monfwi drew,’ and these boundaries are enshrined in the Tłı̨chǫ Agreement.
“Tłı̨chǫ Government is seeking to ensure that the public understands that land acknowledgments should properly recognize and respect Yellowknife as part of the traditional territory of the Tłı̨chǫ, along with other Indigenous nations who also call this area home.”
The City of Yellowknife appeared to have advance notice of the Tłı̨chǫ Government’s Friday declaration on the matter.
Approached by Cabin Radio for comment, the city issued a prepared statement within 15 minutes of the Tłı̨chǫ Government’s press release being distributed.
“The city has received correspondence from Grand Chief Jackson Lafferty of the Tłı̨chǫ Nation regarding recognition and respect for Tłı̨chǫ traditional territory,” that statement read.
“We are respectful of all the First Nation, Métis, Inuit peoples and governments who are foundational in our community and region and whose presence has been on these lands since time immemorial. Relationships with all other orders of government are critical to the city if we are all to work together to achieve our respective and shared goals. Working with Indigenous governments also reflects the value we place on the journey of reconciliation.
“The city understands that there are overlapping Indigenous traditional interests in the geographic area our city is located upon and will be considering follow-up with all Indigenous governments that have an interest in this area.”
Yellowknife ‘not Tłı̨chǫ primary use area’
The Yellowknives Dene First Nation issued a response on Monday making clear that its chiefs feel the Tłı̨chǫ Government has overstepped in making such a request.
“The Tłı̨chǫ Government’s recent press release asserting that Yellowknife is within the traditional territory of the Tłı̨chǫ appears to be an attempt to displace the current recognition that the city is located in the heart of Chief Drygeese Territory, the traditional homeland of the Yellowknives Dene,” the First Nation stated.
“The Yellowknives Dene strongly reject any suggestion that the Tłı̨chǫ connection to these territories is equivalent to our own. Yellowknife is outside the Tłı̨chǫ’s primary use area. For the Yellowknives Dene, the area where Yellowknife is now has always been of the highest importance to us and we have lived in this area for thousands of years. In the past it was like a store that provided everything we needed. Today, our communities of Ndilǫ and Dettah are effectively part of Yellowknife.
“We are deeply saddened that the Tłı̨chǫ are attempting to use the terms of the Tłı̨chǫ Agreement to disadvantage the Yellowknives Dene as a nation still in negotiations. The Yellowknives Dene, as an Akaitcho Dene First Nation, are in the process of negotiating a land, resources and self-government agreement with the Government of Canada and the Government of the Northwest Territories. The unsettled claims of the Yellowknives Dene should be shown greater respect.”
The Yellowknives Dene First Nation says a 2002 agreement, which it referred to as the Overlap Agreement, demonstrates that the Tłı̨chǫ “acknowledged that their primary use area does not extend to include the City of Yellowknife.”
“It seems we are moving backward,” the First Nation stated, asserting that the Tłı̨chǫ had worked to limit Yellowknives Dene representation on two boards tasked with forms of environmental oversight.
“This attempt to include the Tłı̨chǫ in territorial acknowledgements in Yellowknife is also an overreach that undermines the relationship between our Nations,” the Yellowknives Dene response continued.
“We call on the Tłı̨chǫ Government chiefs to meet with our chiefs and come to an agreement that will honour the Overlap Agreement and spirit of traditional respect and co-operation that has allowed our Nations to find common ground in the past.”
‘Building bridges among ourselves’
The North Slave Métis Alliance said it hoped the question of who to acknowledge and when would open up more consideration of its own position.
“The NSMA believes in being inclusive when it comes to relations between the Akaitcho, the Tłı̨chǫ and the NSMA,” North Slave Métis Alliance vice-president Marc Whitford said by email.
“Being inclusive means accepting and respecting each other and working in a co-operative manner within these overlapping and shared traditional territories, and it means not constantly trying to one-up the other.”
Whitford said the City of Yellowknife should “equally acknowledge all of the Indigenous peoples in Yellowknife in a spirit of fairness and promotion of inclusivity [and] should not appear to be a champion of any one particular group.”
“I hope the Tłı̨chǫ raising the issue will promote a change for the better on how we are acknowledged and treated at various venues,” Whitford concluded.
“We at NSMA look forward to building bridges and reconciliation, not just with Canada and the Government of the Northwest Territories, but among ourselves first and foremost.”