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Yellowknifer editorial: proposed land transfer offers chance to do the devolution

It’s good to have land.
Land that could be transferred from the GNWT to the City of Yellowknife is marked in green in this map. It amounts to more than 11,000 acres, or more than half of the land the territory owns within the municipal boundary. Image courtesy of the City of Yellowknife

It’s good to have land.

Better still to be on the water, many a real estate enthusiast would tell you. Those properties keep their value (unless they’re reclaimed by the sea, of course).

Geographical Yellowknife has plenty of water to look at but as the numbers bear out, Yellowknife the city administration has precious little land.

That’s bad. Cities deal with places for people to live, to work and to play and the ways they have to get from one to the other. They deal with finding locations to learn and to be mended when we’re hurt, and the special and mundane things that improve our quality of life.

Cities need land for all of this. So it’s appropriate that the significant swathes of land within city limits, from squared off lot-like plots within the urban footprint to great expanses stymied only by the invisible box that forms the municipal boundary, are indicated in bright green in a map provided to city councillors last week. It’s 11,400 acres in all, 59 per cent of the GNWT’s holdings within that magic box and it’s enviable.

It’s like Christmas in September, it is. That 59 per cent is a lot of acres and hectares, and it’s not even all of the territorial government’s holdings in Yellowknife. The GNWT owns three of every four square centimetres of land within the city’s boundary, much of it the “unfettered, vacant” type that planners beam for and developers fight over. The city itself only has the deeds for about a paltry 11 per cent of its own land mass.

It’s also a nice step in devolution, as Mayor Rebecca Alty pointed out. Any process of moving land from the federal realm down to the territory and through to the local level is to be encouraged. It is also sort of interim: reading a word like “devolution” immediately brings to mind closely connected terms like “reconciliation.” So, it would make sense to expect a respectable portion of the land transfer to find its way under the auspices and control of the Yellowknifes Dene First Nation (YKDFN).

The transfer would exclude mine properties undergoing remediation (that’s good – the larger the order of government responsible for that liability, the better for everyone) and lands identified in the Akaitcho Treaty 8 land withdrawal process. The latter, according to Akaitcho Treaty 8 Tribal Corporation, includes 1,034 hectares of land within the city boundary.

We’ll have to see what the final transfer of land looks like after the YKDFN is consulted: the GNWT has a Section 35 duty, and the city as a practice has been consulting the YKDFN on land-use issues since at least 2020, according to the city manager. But here’s hoping the process is a relatively smooth and straightforward one.

That would be a bit of a change. As Coun. Niels Konge described in a meeting last week, having to navigate the GNWT’s bureaucracy every time a parcel of land changes hands or someone wants to build something (or both) is a deal-killer, full stop.

“It’s no wonder developers just give up,” Konge said. “The process is so difficult and so time-consuming to get land. I’m pleased the GNWT has finally seen the light and is agreeing to do this.”

A city with dominion over the land within its boundaries, not to mention one further along the path to reconciliation – what a new normal that would be.