Righting the wrongs Canada has done to Indigenous people, especially over land taken from them, has been a top priority for decades.
Take the Akaitcho land claims process, which has been dragging on for the better part of 20 years.
During this time, the Akaitcho Dene First Nations, the territorial government and the federal government have been trying to hammer out an agreement-in-principle on land, resources and self-government. The three parties signed a framework agreement in 2000 and have been working to produce an agreement-in-principal – a rough draft of what the final agreement might look like.
Four First Nations from around Great Slave Lake are involved in the negotiations: the Deninu Kue First Nation in Fort Resolution, the Lutsel K’e First Nation and the Yellowknives Dene First Nation from Ndilo and Dettah.
On Tuesday, chief negotiator Fred Sangris told Yellowknife city council that the Akaitcho land claims process could be finalized next year, which is welcome news.
Of the many issues dividing our federal and territorial governments from Indigenous people, land claims are among the most symbolically important and economically consequential.
If the land claims process is concluded, the Akaitcho Dene First Nations will gain significant administrative control over a massive chunk of territory across a large swath of the NWT and portions of Alberta and Nunavut.
Ten square kilometres of this territory is located within the City of Yellowknife.
That means Pilots Monument and Ndilo would no longer be a part of the city. It would also mean combining Ndilo and Dettah into one community – despite the geographic distance between them.
This will have far-reaching consequences, which is why it was a pleasure to hear Sangris speak to Yellowknife city council about the opportunities that might become available to the city once the Akaitcho land claims process is concluded.
“I hope that in the future as we progress and Yellowknives Dene reach their goal we become good neighbours and build a good relationship with the city,” said Sangris.
“When the settlement is completed this will open the door for our relationships with the City of Yellowknife and those who make their homes here as well.”
Sangris said the settlement of the Akaitcho process would produce a “boom” in Yellowknife construction, as the Indigenous group would invest in city projects, including a museum and about 300 homes.
“We’re not going to Hawaii to spend this money,” said Sangris. “This is home, this is where we will spend it.”
This is reconciliation in action, and good news for the Yellowknives Dene and Yellowknife.