A Yellowknives Dene chief says the problem of "squatters" building cabins illegally on First Nations territory has become so bad, even senior N.W.T. government bureaucrats are ignoring the law and setting up cabins wherever they please.
Dettah Chief Fred Sangris said he's frustrated by the lack of action by the federal and territorial governments against squatters around Yellowknife, to the point where the Dene are considering taking matters into their own hands.
Once the Akaitcho First Nation — which includes the Yellowknives Dene —works out itsland claim with Ottawa, Sangris saidthe First Nationwill remove all illegal cabins in the area.
"I've seen a lot of cabins that shouldn't be there," Sangris said. "What upsets me the most is the federal government that is supposed to be in charge of land administration are not doing their duty."
The chief's comments came after Chuck Parker, the N.W.T.'s deputy minister of health and social services, was ordered last week to have his cabin near Campbell Lake torn down and removed. But that followed several years of complaints from neighbour Brian Sundberg, who said Parker never had permission to build his cabin there.
"He started about four or five years ago, hauling in lumber," said Sundberg, who is married to a Yellowknives Dene member and had permission from the band to build his cabin there.
He said he informed Indian and Northern Affairs Canada about Parker building the cabin, but added that department officials did little about it.
"They flew over, took a few pictures, that was it," Sundberg said. "Flew over the next year when the walls went up, took a few pictures. And that was it; they let him go."
Officials with the federal department told CBC News that they know of at least 200 squatters around Yellowknife, but they admitted they can do little more than post notices asking illegal cabin occupants to identify themselves. But in Parker's case, no notice was ever posted, Sundberg said.
"That's a GNWT bureaucrat, and they're doing this? That's unbelievable," Sangris said. "They have a system in place, and if you are a servant of the public, then you've got to follow the laws."
After complaining to Parker's boss, Sundberg said the deputy minister's cabin was finally torn down and removed over the weekend. Premier Joe Handley said he's confident that Parker's case is isolated.
"I don't know of any other ones," Handley said.
"The law is the same for everybody. It doesn't matter if you are a senior person or not. But again, we expect deputy ministers and senior people in government to know better."