Flags fly outside Yellowknife City Hall on September 30, 2019. Ollie Williams/Cabin Radio
Yellowknife must change its land acknowledgement, a resident told councillors on Monday, arguing that it discriminates against Tłı̨chǫ people.
James Lawrance said the statement, which contains no reference to the Tłı̨chǫ, is “not respectful” of the Tłı̨chǫ Government’s modern treaty status.
Lawrance, who does not identify as Tłı̨chǫ, presented to city council on Monday evening – a meeting already in the spotlight after the city was accused of barring a union representative from being added to the list of speakers.
He has said he has Tłı̨chǫ family members who also object to the statement’s wording.
In August last year, the Tłı̨chǫ Government said it wanted Yellowknife land acknowledgements to include a reference to the Tłı̨chǫ, asserting that the city should recognize “Yellowknife is part of Mǫwhì Gogha Dè Nı̨ı̨tłèè, the traditional territory of the Tłı̨chǫ.”
The Tłı̨chǫ Government argued 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.”
But the Tłı̨chǫ Government has not returned to the issue since. A request for comment sent to a Tłı̨chǫ Government spokesperson a month ago received no response.
The Yellowknives Dene First Nation opposes a change to the land acknowledgement. Last summer, the First Nation said the Tłı̨chǫ request represented “an overreach” and “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 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,” the First Nation stated at the time.
The city said last year it was considering “follow-up with all Indigenous governments that have an interest in this area.”
The city’s land acknowledgement currently reads as follows:
The City of Yellowknife acknowledges that we are located in Chief Drygeese territory. From time immemorial, it has been the traditional land of the Yellowknives Dene First Nation. We respect the histories, languages, and cultures of all other Indigenous Peoples including the North Slave Métis, and all First Nations, Métis, and Inuit whose presence continues to enrich our vibrant community.
Prior to June 2021, a slightly different version was used:
The City of Yellowknife acknowledges that we are located in Chief Drygeese territory. From time immemorial, it has been the traditional land of the Yellowknives Dene First Nation, and more recently, the homeland of the North Slave Métis. We respect the histories, languages, and cultures of First Nations, Metis, Inuit, and all First Peoples of Canada, whose presence continues to enrich our vibrant community.
The second version inadvertently remained on the municipality’s website until last month, when the city says the error was caught and the correct statement uploaded.
Why the acknowledgement was changed in 2021 isn’t clear. Asked for that information in late January, a city spokesperson said they would track down the detail but ultimately did not provide it. (Strike action at City Hall began soon after.)
Lawrance had correspondence with Yellowknife’s mayor and council on the issue in the build-up to his Monday presentation. In emails that were copied to reporters, he pointed to the recent shift in wording on the city’s website as evidence that the statement can be changed without formal consultation with the Indigenous groups involved.
There was no discussion of Lawrance’s request among councillors following his presentation on Monday evening.
Mayor Rebecca Alty, in January written responses to Lawrance that were also copied to reporters, said the city was “engaging with Indigenous governments to discuss this,” adding: “It’s important that land acknowledgements are drafted with them.”