'When Akaitcho settles, there will be a big boom here'

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An imminent Akaitcho agreement-in-principle will bring Yellowknife closer to a significant economic bump, negotiator Fred Sangris told city councillors on Monday.

Sangris is the Yellowknives Dene First Nation's negotiator in the Akaitcho Process, which is designed to find an agreement on land, resources, and self-government between the NWT government, federal government, and the Dene peoples indigenous to Dettah, Ndilo, Łutselk’e, and Fort Resolution.

The Akaitcho Process is expected to produce an agreement-in-principle any time now, which will hasten the unlocking of Yellowknife-area land tied up for years.

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For more than a decade, around 1,000 hectares of land within the City of Yellowknife has been withdrawn – meaning no new interests can be created on the land – until an Akaitcho agreement is reached. (Much more land outside municipal boundaries is also affected.)

Negotiations toward some form of agreement have been taking place since the early 1990s. The formal negotiations for this particular agreement began in September 2001.

Updating councillors, Sangris said on Monday: "We have about 27 chapters [of an agreement-in-principle] that have been agreed to. We're just waiting for the word to say OK, we've got it."

Sangris said the agreement-in-principle was expected in May but is now due any day. Outstanding issues are related to taxation and governance, he said.

The City of Yellowknife last week added to the sense that a step forward is imminent by creating a webpage listing the benefits residents will experience following a completed agreement.

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"Once the agreement-in-principle is established, a final agreement is the next step. The final agreement will provide certainty to Akaitcho Dene First Nations, as well as to Yellowknife residents and business owners who often seek land for business opportunities for future development of the city," staff at City Hall wrote.

"While the City is not a negotiation partner, we are committed to work together with the Yellowknives Dene First Nation and the Akaitcho throughout the process to ensure all parties interests’ are considered when discussing land in and around Yellowknife."

'Today, we are ready'

Sangris spoke in a tone at times collaborative, at times blunt.

On one occasion, he warned councillors: "Many of my people are not doing well. What I don't see is my people being hired in different areas. There has to be opportunity for my people.

"We are the people here, yet we are still the poorest and living in poverty. If businesses want our money, they are going to have to support us and hire our people. That's the trade-off.

"Otherwise we'll go shop somewhere else. That's what's going to happen."

In full: City of Yellowknife's land withdrawals map

However, earlier – when describing how the Yellowknives Dene First Nation would use its portion of a settled Yellowknife land claim to focus on business development – Sangris set out a vision of future, shared economic prosperity.

"There are hardly any Aboriginal businesses in Yellowknife, and those things are going to change in the future," he said.

"When Akaitcho settles, there will be a big boom here.

"We're not going to go to Hawaii. This is home, this is where we're going to spend it.

"The amount of dollars? We don't know yet. That's going to be complicated."

Fred Sangris, centre, speaks to Yellowknife city councillors in June 2019

Fred Sangris, centre, speaks to Yellowknife city councillors.

Speaking to Cabin Radio, Mayor Rebecca Alty said: "We have been working for years, really closely. This is definitely an exciting time. This has been a long time coming.

"In our municipal boundaries, [currently] only six percent of the land is under the control of the City for us to sell to private residents or businesses. Yellowknife is super-limited in land for development.

"There are parcels of land within our municipal boundaries ... that the Akaitcho would like as part of the agreement. Once the final agreement comes through, some of the lands are being looked at for economic opportunities."

Alty continued: "This will become a new government-to-government relationship, also looking at Yellowknife Bay, the lake, and co-management agreements."

Sangris, who said his First Nation was prepared to support mining on its land but must make sure "sensitive" regions were protected, said he expects a vote among members on the agreement's terms to be held in around a year's time.

"It's going to take a huge campaign to educate our members, as well as other people," he said.

"Twenty-five years ago, 30 years ago, we were not ready. Today, we have the young generations who are going to take the lead.

"They understand the economy, the technological world, the need for jobs and prosperity."

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