City, YK Dene set to propose changing Yellowknife's boundary

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The City of Yellowknife and Yellowknives Dene First Nation are close to lobbying the territorial government for an adjustment to the city's community boundary.

The change would see Ndilo and Joliffe Island formally ceasing to be part of the city.

Under the proposal, Yellowknife's boundary would instead extend much farther south than at present – adding a chunk of land at least as big as the current built-up city to the south and southwest.

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The Yellowknives Dene First Nation (YKDFN) has already passed a resolution supporting the proposed boundary change.

Yellowknife city councillors will consider the plan at a meeting scheduled for 12pm on Monday at City Hall.

"Looking at the projection for the next 50 years, this is what we would like for a boundary," Mayor Rebecca Alty told Cabin Radio.

"Instead of coming back in a few more years and saying, 'Hey, we need a boundary adjustment,' let's do it all at once.

"The YKDFN have a band council resolution approved – they accept this boundary – and so now the City is discussing it. Once we both approve a council motion, then we'll be going to the GNWT."

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The proposal was revealed in the agenda for Monday's meeting, published to the City's website on Friday.

A map published in a City of Yellowknife committee meeting agenda shows, in dotted orange, the proposed new boundary of the community. The current boundary is shown as a thick, dotted red line.

Nobody from the Yellowknives Dene First Nation was immediately available for comment.

Recently, YKDFN community negotiator Fred Sangris had hinted at such a proposal being brought forward.

In June, Sangris told the CBC Ndilo – one of the First Nation's two communities – cannot receive federal or territorial funding through the same channels as its other community, Dettah, as it falls within Yellowknife's boundary.

"Ndilo has been living off Dettah … until the scenario changes," the broadcaster quoted Sangris as saying.

Alty said Yellowknife has been receiving federal grants, in lieu of taxes, to provide services to Ndilo.

The proposal comes forward amid the final stages of negotiating a much broader Akaitcho Agreement governing rights to land in the region – a process which has taken many years.

An agreement-in-principle is expected imminently, Sangris told city councillors last month.

'Appetite' to change land rules

The proposal to add a sweeping tract of land to Yellowknife's southern boundary underscores City Hall's desire for space to expand, but does not change the current rules governing how the City can access land.

Even with an expanded boundary, the City would still have to request access to parcels of that land from the territorial government on a case-by-case basis – a sore point with many at City Hall that came under the spotlight in a case before council this week.

Many councillors and staff feel the policy effectively hands control of community planning to the territorial government, not Yellowknife's planners, and throttles development.

The territorial government has said it requires that level of control in order to properly consult on how the land is used and to ensure the territory has access to the required land for its own purposes.

Alty said she feels "there is appetite" to get those rules changed and hand more control to individual municipalities.

"It's not just a Yellowknife issue. It's Fort Smith's feeling, it's Inuvik's feeling, even the smaller communities are feeling it," she said.

"All of us are talking to the government about it and it's not a legislation change, it's a policy change. So that is easier to do."

The timeline for changing the community boundary, if the request is approved by city councillors and goes ahead, is unclear.

This fall's election is likely to interfere significantly, meaning any such change is unlikely to proceed before 2020.

Minister's decision

Boundary changes like this one are rare, said Eleanor Young, deputy minister of the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs (MACA) – under whose policy the request for such a change would come in.

"In my time with MACA, I've only seen one handled under this policy and it only went part-way through the process," said Young, a 14-year veteran of the department, referring to a request raised by Fort Smith "a number of years ago." That request was not completed.

Young said the department would still need to consult with other Indigenous governments in the region about Yellowknife and YKDFN's joint request, if the proposal is put forward to the territory.

"Over the next months we would reach out to those Indigenous governments and see if they are supportive of the request or if they have concerns they would like to bring forward," she said.

"Then we will make a recommendation to the minister, allowing the minister to make a decision."

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