After decades of being moved around within city limits and leasing Kam Lake property from the municipality, the Yellowknife Dog Trotters Association (YKDTA) is refusing to move again and wants full ownership of the land they occupy as an act of reconciliation.
Jordee Reid, president of the association, which represents 17 families with 250 sled dogs located at 185 Curry Drive, attended a July 22 government priorities committee meeting. With several supporting families present, Reid requested the acquisition of their shared land at zero cost as a two year extension to a 10-year lease with the city is set to expire in November.
“Previous administrations have had a confrontational and authoritarian approach in dealing with the dog trotters,” Reid said, noting that dog mushers were forcibly moved by the city in 1977 from a previous location in Niven Lake to their current spot in Kam Lake.
In 2007, the association signed a 10-year lease with the city. As the lease came to expire in 2017, the city sought to move the dog mushers further to the outskirts of town to the Engle business district off Deh Cho Boulevard. When the association refused, it led to a two-year extension lease.
Council will make a final decision on the matter on Aug. 25, but any attempt to move them from Kam Lake was and is “oppressive and outrageous,” Reid said.
“Moving the dog trotters from Kam Lake again draws a strong comparison to the broken promises Indigenous people experienced during Canada's history of colonization,” she said.
Reid and her supporters said their contributions to the city, the cultural significance of dog mushing, and the oppression they've endured from being moved should justify them receiving the land under the city's policy of striving for reconciliation.
“The reconciliation part is about building relationships and undoing wrongs of the past and restoring relationships and working together going forward.,” said Ernie Campbell, another musher who owns a plot with the YDTA.“We've been wronged in the past. There have been promises unfulfilled.”
Dog mushers present also said that over the decades they have put great effort into developing trails and the land to prepare it for dog sledding.
Continued high costs associated with running dog teams limits the ability for mushers to pay for the property, they argued as the association collectively pays nearly $154,000 a year to care for the dogs.
The noon-hour meeting stretched well into the afternoon as city councillors wrestled with the idea of negotiating with a society within city boundaries under the guise of reconciliation.
“I think it becomes a very difficult - not just discussion- but how do I then as a councillor decide that your society is better than another society that comes with a different ask?” asked Konge.
City administration is recommending the lot be sold to the trotters, but that different payment options be explored to accommodate the association. Among the options include subsidized costs, long term payment plans and a sale less than the cost of improvements to the lot.
The lot is currently appraised at $360,000.
“Selling it at appraised value with less development costs could be one way to get there,” said Sheila Bassi-Kellett, senior administrative officer.
Part of the presentation also touched on the association's desire to expand geographically in Kam Lake.
Ernie Campbell explained mushing has a lot of potential for growth, but the current property is at capacity of 250 sled dogs.
“We are at capacity now because we have our sons and daughters racing and I have grandchildren who will start racing next year,” he said. “So there's lots of opportunity for this way of life to continue. We want to continue to see how we can expand in the Kam Lake area going forward.”
Councillors were doubtful that expansion could take place for the dog mushers because the city's current community plan process does not allow for further growth.
“The area has evolved,” said Konge, adding he will not support the expansion idea. “You were there first, absolutely you were there first, but it has evolved. It's not the same place it was in 1977 and big dog lots are an incompatible use in Kam Lake.
“Whether or not council decides to sell you, be it for a dollar value, that lot you're currently on, I'm quite confident there will not be expansion on the lot you are currently on.”
There have also been about 180 lots developed in the Grace Lake area over the last decade, he noted.
Both Konge and Coun. Julian Morse suggested it would be a better idea to move the dog lot to an area within the city where there could be proper planning, room for growth and away from housing development.
But those present weren't having it.
“No it wouldn't,” shouted one member of the audience.
Coun. Shauna Morgan said it is important to have a positive relationship with the association and that the city wants to negotiate in good faith without forcing them to move.
“The question is whether reconciliation requires the city to essentially subsidize the land sale to the dog trotters and whether Yellowknife Indigenous and non Indigenous citizens must 100 per cent subsidize the cost of buying this land (outright).”