The City of Yellowknife is close to approving a new memorandum of understanding with the Yellowknives Dene First Nation.
The document will guide how the two governments work on shared interests, including how to manage certain areas of the city if and when a proposed boundary change is approved.
Calling the document “foundational,” city administrator Sheila Bassi-Kellett said the memorandum – or MOU – is an update on a similar document in place since 2002, which she said is in need of modernization.
“The purpose and intent of an MOU, in this case, is for us to be able to describe the terms of our government-to-government relationship and how we will work together on common, shared goals and interests,” said Bassi-Kellett.
The memorandum is a further sign of increasingly close cooperation between the City of Yellowknife and Yellowknives Dene First Nation – which the First Nation’s leaders attribute in part to work begun by former mayor Mark Heyck and continued by incumbent Rebecca Alty.
The memorandum acknowledges the city sits on Chief Drygeese territory, the “unceded lands of the Yellowknives Dene,” who are referenced as caretakers of the land since “time immemorial.”
The document also outlines both parties’ commitment to reconciliation and a “mutually respectful relationship.”
The memo will be the foundation for work on shared infrastructure and economic development, Bassi-Kellett said. It will also be the basis for how the two governments decide to collaborate once the Akaitcho Final Agreement is signed and 1,000 hectares of land move from the municipality to the Yellowknives Dene.
If and when a proposed boundary change is approved by the territorial government, co-management will be needed in places like Yellowknife’s Old Town, which would see Pilots’ Monument and Joliffe Island come under the ownership of the Yellowknives Dene.
Mayor Rebecca Alty said collaborating on the economy is important, as is the potential to work together on essential services like water and waste.
“Is there an opportunity for us to work together to have shared regional services and some understandings on water, sewer, solid waste, and recycling?” she suggested to Cabin Radio. “How can we work together on those things to be more cost-effective?”
The document is mainly a framework, but does set out the requirement for the Indigenous and municipal governments to hold at least one joint council meeting per year. The document outlines where the meetings will be held, who will preside over each, and who will take minutes.
“Sometimes you think those are monotonous details but they are important to have spelled out,” Alty said.
Bassi-Kellett told councillors on Monday that the Yellowknives Dene reviewed the memorandum at a band council meeting on August 8 and have endorsed the approach.
The document will be formally approved at a future council meeting before being adopted by the City.
The updated memorandum comes as the City gathers input on a reconciliation action plan, to be drafted this fall.
With reporting from Ollie Williams