The Tłı̨chǫ Government wants land acknowledgements in Yellowknife to recognize the city as being within Mǫwhì Gogha Dè Nı̨ı̨tłèè — the traditional area described by Chief Monfwi during the signing of Treaty 11 in 1921.
That request doesn't sit well with Ndilǫ Chief Fred Sangris of Yellowknives Dene First Nation (YKDFN), who said it undermines Akaitcho Dene First Nations' land, resources and self-government negotiations, and the Yellowknives Dene as the primary occupants of the Yellowknife area for more than 7,000 years.
"There's a scenario that's happening and that scenario is trying to get the Yellowknives under one roof with Tłı̨chǫ and that's not a dream for Akaitcho people. That's not where we're going," said Sangris.
Tłı̨chǫ Grand Chief Jackson Lafferty recently wrote a letter to the City of Yellowknife, the speaker of the Legislative Assembly, and the federal government, calling for the Tłı̨chǫ to be recognized as traditional occupants of Yellowknife in city land acknowledgements.
Lafferty was not immediately available for an interview with CBC News.
Sangris said the request to add Tłı̨chǫ to land acknowledgements in the city raises larger issues, including the failure to uphold the spirit of a 2002 Overlap Agreement signed between the Tłı̨chǫ and Yellowknives Dene on their respective boundaries, harvesting rights and overlapping interests.
Sangris said Akaitcho Dene First Nations' support for the Tłı̨chǫ Agreement was contingent upon the Overlap Agreement, in which the Tłı̨chǫ acknowledge that their primary-use area does not include the City of Yellowknife.
He said the 2002 agreement recognizes that Tłı̨chǫ will use land within Akaitcho territory for hunting, trapping and harvesting.
The Tłı̨chǫ signed similar agreements with Dehcho First Nations.
Land claim concerns
Sangris said the Tłı̨chǫ request for land recognition undermines 20 years of Akaitcho Treaty 8 negotiations with Canada over land, resources and self-government.
These talks include Deninu Ku'e First Nation, Yellowknives Dene First Nation (Ndilǫ and Dettah), Łutsel K'e Dene First Nation and Smith's Landing First Nation.
"The request [the Tłı̨chǫ] are making is outside their actual land claim agreement. If they're trying to re-negotiate something, it's not gonna work," said Sangris.
Sangris said the Yellowknives Dene are a distinct group, and that the Tłı̨chǫ connection to the area is not equivalent to their nation's use of the area.
"Even though we had battles with Tłı̨chǫ in 1823, a peacemaking at Mesa lake, we're still here," said Sangris.
Gots'ôkàtì (Mesa Lake), lies 80 kilometres from Wekweètì. It's known as the place where Edzo, a Tłı̨chǫ leader, and Akaitcho, a Yellowknives Dene leader, ended years of fighting between Tłı̨chǫ and Akaitcho peoples.
Dispute over boundaries, history
The Tłı̨chǫ government says the Tłı̨chǫ Agreement's boundaries were recounted by Elder Harry Black at the Berger Inquiry in 1977.
Black said Chief Monfwi told an agent for Canada that the Tłı̨chǫ boundary starts at Fort Providence, N.W.T., follows the Mackenzie River to Great Bear Lake, across to Contwoyto Lake and to Lutselk'e, then back along Great Slave Lake to Fort Providence.
According to Sangris, that's the same territory that Chief Sizeh Drygeese communicated to Monfwi in 1920, when he was explaining how the Akaitcho Dene described their boundary to Canadian government agents.
"All Monfwi did was repeat it and drew it on the map even though it's not part of his territory or land use area."
Sangris said the history of the two nations is relevant to a discussion about traditional use and land recognition.
He said he wants Tłı̨chǫ leaders to meet with Yellowknives Dene First Nation leaders and discuss how the boundary agreement is not being implemented. Since 2006, YKDFN has written at least five letters to Tłı̨chǫ grand chiefs about the issue, said Sangris.
He also said the Tłı̨chǫ are denying Akaitcho members "equal representation" on the Wek'éezhii Renewable Resource Board and in the work on shared areas such as Dınàgà Wek'èhodì, a candidate for protected-area status.
Former Dene National Chief Bill Erasmus said he was "somewhat surprised the Tłı̨chǫ have gone this route."
"It makes one wonder about the timing of this and what's behind it," he said.
Erasmus said people have always viewed the land as shared, adding "if the Tłı̨chǫ expect to be recognized when the acknowledgement is made in Yellowknife, than the same thing should happen in Behchokǫ̀. They should say this is the traditional territory of the Yellowknives Dene also."
City issues response
In a statement, the City of Yellowknife said it is "respectful of all the First Nation, Métis Inuit peoples and governments who are foundational in our community and region and whose presence has been on these lands since time immemorial."
It says there are "overlapping Indigenous traditional interests" within the city of Yellowknife and that it will be "considering follow up" with Indigenous governments who have an interest in the area.
The North Slave Métis Alliance is included in the city's official land acknowledgement.
North Slave Métis Alliance vice president Marc Whitford said in a statement that "the City of Yellowknife, would be well served to equally acknowledge all of the Indigenous peoples in Yellowknife in a spirit of fairness and promotion of inclusivity."
Whitford said he hoped the Tłı̨chǫ raising the issue of land acknowledgements will "promote a change for the better on how [North Slave Métis] are acknowledged and treated at various venues."
Erasmus said Tłı̨chǫ and YKDFN have many connections, including marriages.
"It's important that everyone works together," he said.