Yellowknives Dene First Nation hands out eviction notices on Yellowknife Bay

The Yellowknives Dene First Nation has handed out eviction notices to houseboaters anchored on the nation’s side of Yellowknife Bay. 

First Nation says notices are assertion of Aboriginal and treaty rights

Two barges and three houseboats, including the one in this photo, were handed eviction notices on Friday. (Danielle d'Entremont/ CBC)

The Yellowknives Dene First Nation has handed out eviction notices to houseboaters anchored on the nation's side of Yellowknife Bay. 

Several officials from the First Nation undocked from Dettah on Friday, then sailed up to and stapled the "first and final" warnings on three houseboats and two barges.

Jason Snaggs, CEO of the First Nation, said the notices are an assertion of their Aboriginal and treaty rights.

"The Yellowknives Dene First Nation … seeks to ensure that its water and its land are protected from people who have not shown any respect," he said.

The notices come after a statement earlier last week, in which the First Nation said it took issue with the unauthorized land and water occupancy within the Yellowknives Dene Traditional Chief Drygeese Asserted Community Area. 

Jason Snaggs is the CEO of the Yellowknives Dene First Nation. (Danielle d'Entremont/ CBC)

'Protected under our constitution'

The notices say their unauthorized occupancy is an infringement on, and disregard of the nation's rights, protected under section 35 the Canadian Constitution.

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"Canada's constitution provides in Section 35 that Aboriginal and treaty rights are respected and affirmed, which means that those rights that YKDFN has always had are protected under our constitution," said Larry Innes, a Yellowknife-based lawyer who practices in the area of Indigenous rights and environmental law.

Innes also advises First Nations in the North, including the Yellowknives Dene on related matters.

The eviction notices say the occupants have two weeks to vacate. If not, the First Nation says it will take legal action.

Innes said that action could potentially take several forms if the notices are not followed. 

"YKDFN is able to bring its issues to the courts and pursue actions against those individuals through various means, including bringing a civil claim against them for public nuisance," he said. 

The first and final notices are signed by Chief Edward Sangris of Yellowknives Dene in Dettah, and Chief Ernest Betsina of Yellowknives Dene in Ndilo. (Danielle d'Entremont/ CBC)

The First Nation could also make a request to the territorial government to act against the unauthorized use of public land and water by the individuals under the territorial Lands Act, Innes said.

"You can't, as an individual, act in public space without regard for these broader public purposes that are unfolding around you without consequence," he said.

In an email to CBC, Toni Riley, a spokesperson for the territory's Department of Lands, said that the use of  Yellowknife Bay is a "complex matter involving many parties."

"The GNWT have taken steps to address situations where houseboats have posed a particular environmental or other risk," he wrote.

"The GNWT expects that the issues raised by the Yellowknives Dene First Nation will be discussed at negotiations involving the Akaitcho Dene First Nations, Canada and the GNWT."

Randy Baillargeon, former YKDFN councillor, drove the boat. (Danielle d'Entremont/CBC)

'Respect for their rights, their land, their treaty'

The First Nation is in the midst of negotiating that boundary with the city. Akaitcho Dene First Nations, including the Yellowknives Dene, are also currently negotiating a land claim with Canada and the territorial government. 

A map by Yellowknives Dene First Nation illustrates the off-limits areas for unauthorized water residences like house boats. (Yellowknives Dene First Nation)

"As we continue with our land and settlement negotiations with the government of Canada, our expectation is that people will respect ... the Aboriginal rights and treaty," Snaggs said.

Last year, negotiators said they hoped that a long-awaited agreement-in-principle would be completed this summer. But in June, Chief Ernest Betsina of the Yellowknives Dene in Ndilo, said consultations were delayed because of pandemic-related restrictions.

Innes said in recent years, the YKDFN lands on the east side of the bay have not been substantially interfered with by settlement or other activities. 

"These incursions are not in the spirit of reconciliation, and not in accordance with the understandings that they've reached at the table with the other parties," Innes said.

But last year and into this year, Snaggs said the First Nation has seen more and more houseboaters coming over to the Dettah side of the community boundary.

"Yellowknives Dene have lived here from time immemorial and we are asking people to live in harmony with us, but to [also] show respect for their rights, their land, and their treaty," Snaggs said.

Machel Thomas, land management director for the First Nation, staples an eviction notice on one of the three houseboats. (Danielle d'Entremont/CBC)

Snaggs was hopeful to have conversations with those who were given the notices, but no one came to the door.

CBC reached out to several houseboaters living in the area, including one who was given a notice, all of whom declined to comment at this time.

Ryan Peters, community and public works manager for the Yellowknives Dene, staples a notice onto one of the houseboats on the nation's side of Yellowknife Bay. (Danielle d'Entremont/CBC)