Yellowknives Dene First Nation (YKDFN) is calling for consultation and more controls on the building of ice roads on their side of Yellowknife Bay, otherwise there will be confrontation, says Ndilo Chief Fred Sangris.

The ice roads built on YKDFN’s side of the water in recent years have become too many and have presented obstacles to members practising traditional fishing and hunting as part of their treaty rights, Sangris said this week.

“People who are in the tourism or mining or fishing industry are out and about generally building (ice) roads to their camp (extended) from the GNWT public road road to Dettah,” he said. “And that seems to be having a huge impact on our own Dene way of life in the bay. The last few years have been really bad.

“Sometime down the road here, the Yellowknives Dene are going to take a stand and the government is going to have to deal with it,” he warned. “If our way of life is going to be impacted by Canadians who disregard us on our front door and impact on our way of life, then there’s going to be a confrontation. There’s going to be people standing up and saying ‘Hang on here. This is our fishing area or hunting area. You cannot build an ice road here.’”

Sangris said the Yellowknives Dene have been living in the area for thousands of years and have relied heavily on its resources, including for food.

Other than the public ice road to Dettah, YKDFN has not been consulted when offshoot ice roads get built and Sangris said they are often done by professional ice road builders from Yellowknife for private financial benefit.

People in the traditional territory see it as disrespectful, he contended.

“There seems to be a disregard or disrespect,” Sangris said. “There’s no respect for Indigenous people. People are building ice roads or doing whatever they want in our backyard.”

He said the construction of the 110-kilometre, 1.1-metre thick road by Cheetah Resources to the Nechalacho rare earths mine, which officially opened last year, has contributed to the appearance of more traffic that’s disrupting traditional users of the area.

“A lot of people travelled that road last year that was built all the way to Thor Lake and were not only driving on that road but walking or biking,” Sangris said. “They end up walking into traplines or hunting areas, into the area of people who have fishing camps.”

In September 2020, the Yellowknives Dene served a highly publicized notice to houseboaters who were setting up residences on the YKDFN side of the bay. The First Nation asserted that those developments were unauthorized and done without consultation.

Sangris said the current ice road situation is comparable.

“It’s the same thing,” he said.”What we have is a nation-to-nation agreement with Canada that anything we do or practice under the treaty, no one will interfere with our way of life.

“That’s not quite standing up today because Canada is not really monitoring that. There are people who are considered Crown subjects who are interfering with our way of life.”

David Connelly, vice-president of strategy and corporate affairs with Cheetah Resources, which owns Nechalacho rare earths mine 100 km southeast of Yellowknife, said he hadn’t heard of complaints about the ice road. He pointed out that construction of the mine’s ice road over the last two years was temporary to ship needed equipment to the remote site.

An ice road is not being built this year and most of the remaining transportation needs will be done by barge.

Cheetah has been working closely with YKDFN and its economic arm, Deton’Cho Corporation over the last two years of the mine’s development to ensure that Yellowknives Dene and people of Indigenous background get the majority of employment and contract benefits to operate the mine, according to Connelly.

The mining operation lies on YKDFN traditional territory and has provided members with employment opportunities that include staffing the camp, operating an ore sorter and providing other labour for an emerging critical minerals extraction industry.

Sangris said he doesn’t believe YKDFN members have been making use of the road to access their private cabins, either.

“No, we’re talking about non-aboriginals,” he said. “Yellowknives Dene use Ski-Doos to get to their cabins. These are city folks. I’m not talking about the people living in Ndilǫ or Dettah, but the city municipality that is having a large impact on us.”

There must be more consultation with YKDFN and more restrictions established as to when ice roads can be built because the current status is not sustainable, Sangris said.

NNSL Media reached out to the City of Yellowknife and the Government of the Northwest Territories for comment on Jan. 11 but was awaiting response as of publication deadline

Simon Whitehouse

Simon Whitehouse came to Yellowknife to work with Northern News Services in 2011. Simon obtained his journalism education at Algonquin College and the University of Ottawa. Simon can be reached at...

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