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YK boundary change: Houseboats, bay traffic to be examined

Houseboats sit off Joliffe Island in Yellowknife Bay in May 2018
Houseboats sit off Joliffe Island in Yellowknife Bay in May 2018. Ollie Williams/Cabin Radio

How to manage houseboats and water traffic on Yellowknife Bay are issues still to be resolved as the City of Yellowknife and Yellowknives Dene First Nation prepare to lobby for a municipal boundary change.

Yellowknife’s mayor and council unanimously applauded the proposed boundary change at a committee meeting Monday, with Councillor Julian Morse calling it a “historic and exciting moment for reconciliation.”

As first reported last week, the change would see Joliffe Island and Ndilo transfer from the City of Yellowknife to the Yellowknives Dene First Nation (YKDFN) and the city boundary extend farther south and southwest than at present.

A boundary change requires territorial government approval.



That process could extend into 2020 with a territorial election on the horizon this fall. Last week, the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs – which oversees such boundary changes – expressed no immediate concerns about the proposal, but said it would be automatically referred for consultation with remaining Indigenous groups.

YKDFN has already approved the proposed boundary change, but the First Nation’s leaders say what happens to Joliffe Island’s neighbouring houseboats – and how traffic on Yellowknife Bay is managed – will require more cooperation.

Dettah Chief Edward Sangris suggested a partnership or joint jurisdiction could be a model to use, terming the issue a “kink” to be worked out.

“It’s been noticed by our people … that any time they go boating, they have to watch out for planes. We need to really look at the traffic flow of Yellowknife Bay,” Sangris told Cabin Radio, adding that included float plane and boat traffic as well as houseboats.



“We’re going to be looking at marinas – where to establish marinas – so there’s no conflicting traffic.”

A City of Yellowknife map depicting the proposed boundary change, with the current city boundary in dotted red and the new boundary as an orange dotted line.

Councillor Morse wants to see a memorandum of understanding drafted as soon as possible so conflicts of interest do not arise.

“The houseboats, Old Town, that is the heart of Yellowknife for me. It’s part of who I am,” he said. “I know that there are some people in that community who are concerned about what’s happening and I think that … this is an opportunity for us to come together and talk, and to work together and develop relationships.”

The City says it has a longstanding memorandum of understanding with the Yellowknives Dene – one which city administrator Sheila Bassi-Kellett says is being updated this month – that will “set the tone” for discussions around how various areas can be co-managed.

‘The will is there’

Reached on Monday, Old Town entrepreneur and longtime houseboater Matthew Grogono said he had not heard from either the City or the Yellowknives Dene about the boundary change.

Grogono said houseboaters ought to be involved in the discussion if the boundary change will affect operations on Yellowknife Bay.

“It would be a lot simpler to be involved in the discussion in some way as opposed to something being built top-down and delivered to the houseboat community and say, ‘Well, this is what you got,'” he said.



Both Yellowknives Dene chiefs – Chief Sangris and Ndilo Chief Ernest Betsina – agree work on the boundary signals a new relationship with the City of Yellowknife.

“They’re starting to finally acknowledge that the city is all Chief Drygeese territory,” said Sangris, adding he felt the resolution had been a long time coming.

“It just shows that the will is there for both councils to work together. And this is a good example of working together,” Betsina added.

The chiefs say the proposed boundary will allow both communities to expand over the next 50 years and beyond. In particular, Betsina said land along the Dettah road will allow his community to grow in this area.

“Our membership is certainly growing. Housing is always a problem. So that’s one area that we want to start developing that side of the lake, where we can expand for our members to start developing housing,” he said.

The boundary change is part of the broader Akaitcho land claim process, which the Yellowknives Dene are in the final stages of negotiating, together with the Łutselk’e and Deninu Kue First Nations.

Chief of Dettah Edward Sangris, left, and Chief of Ndilo Ernest Betsina speak about the proposed change to the City of Yellowknife's municipal boundaries

Chief of Dettah Edward Sangris, left, and Chief of Ndilo Ernest Betsina. Emelie Peacock/Cabin Radio

Negotiator Fred Sangris told city council last month the agreement could bring a significant boost to the local economy. At Monday’s meeting, councillors expressed support for a new, two-year economic development project partnering the City and YKDFN.



The two were chosen from 44 communities for the federal First Nation-Municipal Community Economic Development Initiative, which provides a small amount of funding for collaborative economic projects.

“With the memo that we just passed, 15 percent of the land within Yellowknife is Akaitcho land – so working together is going to be key,” Mayor Rebecca Alty told councillor.

“Not all of that land will be for economic purposes – some of it’s cultural, some of it is for other purposes. But I do think it’s important that we work together.”

The next step in the boundary change process is formal approval from city councillors. That is likely to be granted at a council meeting on July 22.

The territorial government will then receive the request and make a recommendation to the minister responsible.