The message from the Yellowknives Dene First Nation (YKDFN) is loud and clear; house boaters are not to anchor on that Nation’s side of Yellowknife Bay.
“In the 1950s and 60s the Chief at the time, my dad Joe Sangris, made a verbal arrangement with the city back then, that no one would establish anything on the east side of the bay, that would be for the Yellowknives Dene,” said Dettah Chief Edward Sangris.
On Oct. 2, eviction notices were stapled to three houseboats and two barges along the eastern shores of Yellowknife Bay. YKDFN and the city of Yellowknife both reside on the bay with the community of Dettah a 20 minute drive from the city center or a 10 minute boatride across the bay.
A few days prior, the First Nation released a statement saying they would not stand for the unauthorized land and water occupancy within the Yellowknives Dene Traditional Chief Drygeese Asserted Community Area.
The notices site the situation as a disregard of the nation’s rights which are protected under section 35 of the Constitution.
While houseboats began to pop up around the 1990s, according to the First Nations, more houseboats and barges have been encroaching to the two YKDFN communities of Dettah and N’Dilo and as the weather dips below 0 time is of the essences to remove unwanted vessels before the lake freezes.
“People were calling me saying ‘there’s someone pulling a barge across the bay.’ Our people are our eyes and ears,” said Sangris who added that not everyone anchored in the bay may have known the local protocol.
YKDFN said the owners of the houseboats and barges were not around when evictions were delivered but if they are not moved soon ithe matter will go to litigation, something the chief said he’s willing to do to assert traditional territory.
“Where they put the barges, our people use to set nets along the way because there was a fall run there by the river the fish,” he said.
“People don’t understand that if someone were to build a house on an island where we use to berry pick, they don’t understand we cannot use it anymore but it is still sacred,” said Sangris.
Over the last year, YKDFN has been in talks with the City of Yellowknife over a proposed land boundary change which would see the area where many houseboats reside, be given back to the First Nations.
The chief said conversations with the city have been positive.
“We are just on the final stages of finalizing. It’s just one or two items for discussions need to be had, one of them being Jollife island,” Sangris said.
Sheila Bassi-Kellett, a city administrator said it was a big moment when Yellowknife council and YKDFN each jointly submitted an application to change the boundary.
“The GNWT doesn’t change boundaries very often, so they are figuring out how to go about this.” Bassi-Kellett acknowledged all levels of government have jurisdiction over and will be involved in the boundary change.
“So examples including co-management around the Willideh site. We know that’s a very important site for Yellowknives and that’s also where we have a city pump house where there’s the intake that brings all of the raw water that is treated to Dettah, N’Dilo and Yellowknife,” she said.
After half a century since the agreement was made surrounding Yellowknife Bay, chief Sangris said he’s merely upholding the work done by past leaders like his dad.
“I think he would be surprised in terms of what he had taught us. He taught us to assert our aboriginal rights and to ensure the land and resources are kept safe,” Sangris said.