Eighteen months ago, the NWT government launched a $6-million project to examine more than 700 cabins and remove those found to be illegally built.
The territory said the work could take until the end of the decade as it pursues owners of unauthorized cabins – squatters, in other words, with no lease and no Indigenous right to be there.
Last week, the Department of Lands told Cabin Radio the project has so far resulted in the removal of two “unauthorized structures.”
“To date, there have been two voluntary removals with no cost to the department,” spokesperson Tania Oosting said by email. The locations were not provided.
The department declined to make anyone available for an interview and did not provide any information regarding the project’s cost to date, instead stating that inspections are funded through its regular operating budget. In February 2021, the office of lands minister Shane Thompson said $6.4 million had been earmarked over eight years, including $2.25 million on removal costs and $991,000 on legal costs.
Asked for a range of statistics, Oosting said 132 first postings have been issued, these being the initial warnings attached to cabins that ask their owners to set out what legal right they have to occupy the land.
Forty-one second postings, or formal notices of trespass, have been issued if no response to a first posting was received.
Oosting said two legal processes have been initiated to try to remove unauthorized occupants and three voluntary removal agreements have been reached (it’s not clear if the two removed structures mentioned above are included within those three agreements, or are separate).
“The process to remove an unauthorized occupant can take several years,” Oosting wrote.
“Unauthorized structures are typically posted when inspectors conduct routine inspections, or when information about a possible unauthorized occupant is received by the department. Some inspections can only happen during specific times of the year due to accessibility.”
“The legal process to remove an unauthorized occupant can take a few years and involves both the Department of Lands and the Department of Justice. In cases where the department does not have information about the unauthorized occupant, there is an additional investigative process, including a public notice issued through the newspapers.”
Oosting said the two voluntary removals had come after those structures received a second posting.
Announcing the campaign last year, Thompson said illegal cabins were a “longstanding issue” that had not been suitably addressed for half a century.
Gina Ridgely, the department’s director of land use and sustainability, said at the time: “This project is going to take some time. The legal process to seek removal can take months or even years, so we don’t expect to see results immediately.”
Around 550 of the 700 or so structures under investigation are in the North Slave.
Chief Edward Sangris of Dettah told Cabin Radio last year that squatters were a big problem for the Yellowknives Dene First Nation.
Illegal cabins were infringing on members’ rights to hunt and trap, Sangris said.