North

Yellowknives Dene may sue N.W.T. gov't over cabin lot leases

The Yellowknives Dene First Nation says the N.W.T. government had no right to offer up 22 cabin lot leases this summer along the Ingraham Trail, because land claim negotiations have not been resolved.

Government hopes to approve leases next month

Rudy Vanderjagt, far right, was one of 22 people whose ballots were drawn in July during a lottery for prized cabin lots being made available by the territorial government along the city's Ingraham Trail. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

The Yellowknives Dene First Nation says it may sue the N.W.T. government for offering up 22 cabin lot leases this summer along the Ingraham Trail, a popular Yellowknife recreation area.

In late July, more than 900 people took part in the lottery for a chance at one of the 22 highly-coveted leases. The area is currently off-limits to all other would-be leaseholders.

Ed Sangris, the chief of Dettah for the Yellowknives Dene First Nation, and Ernest Betsina, chief of Ndilo, have sent a letter to the N.W.T. government saying it has no legal right to lease land on the Ingraham Trail while land claim negotiations continue. (CBC)

But Ed Sangris, the Dettah-based chief of the Yellowknives Dene First Nation, says the territorial government — which is negotiating a land claim with the YKDFN — never consulted the First Nation before proceeding with the lottery.

"The only way we found about it was through the press release," said Sangris.

In Sangris' mind, who actually owns the land being leased by the government is still a matter of negotiation.

"We're trying to protect our land until we have a settlement. We've got to have a settlement before we can agree to these kind of things."

The territorial government has said it hopes to approve lease applications for the 22 lots next month. Asked what his band will do if that happens, Sangris said, "We've got no other recourse. We might have to go to litigation."

Asked what constitutes meaningful consultation in the band's eyes, Sangris said, "Leader to leader discussion, with the leadership of Yellowknives Dene and the GNWT. To sit down together and have these discussions. Not staff talking to staff on the street."

'Anyone living out at Ingraham Trail knows they're doing that at their own risk'- Bill Erasmus

Dene National Chief Bill Erasmus says the government should never have offered leases to people.

"Anyone living out at Ingraham Trail knows they're doing that at their own risk because those lands have been in negotiations since the 1970s," he said.

In a letter of his own also sent on July 31, Erasmus cited concerns with the territorial government's recent offer to 41 leaseholders at Cassidy Point, an area along the trail. The government is giving those leaseholders a chance to buy the land.

"Anyone expecting to get ownership of those lands really is being misled," said Erasmus.

He questioned whether the Yellowknives Dene had consented to the government's making the offer.

The N.W.T.'s Department of Lands says that before the Cassidy Point offer was made, the government "consulted with affected aboriginal groups."

CBC News expects to hear from Robert C. McLeod,  N.W.T.'s minister of Lands, later today.

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