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City, Yellowknives draft a better relationship

Nathan VanderKlippe
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Apr 17/02) - The city and the Yellowknives Dene have finished talks on drafting a memorandum of understanding.

The MOU sets the framework for a more communicative relationship between the two parties, which have bickered over a number of issues in the past.

"It's formalizing a relationship that currently exists but not in any formal way," said city corporate services director Tim Mercer.

"It sets in place a process to approach some of the more substantial issues."

"This is not a legal document," added Yellowknives Dene First Nations CEO David Cravitz. "This is just a promise document, a statement of goodwill and things that we can do together."

The seven-page MOU will be discussed by both the Yellowknives and city councillors in the near future.

It calls for annual joint council meetings, and formal sharing of the following information:

It calls for notification of:

The document specifies that Yellowknives Dene will be included on the city's emergency planning committee, and will play a more central role during emergencies in Ndilo.

It also suggests the creation of a joint working committee to negotiate some of the thornier issues between the two parties, including:

Mercer was careful to point out that the MOU "steers clear of anything involving land claims or self-government."

The MOU was hammered out over three meetings between Mercer, Cravitz, city Coun. Kevin O'Reilly and band Coun. Shirley Tsetta. The final document draws together portions of a number of other agreements nation-wide, including documents between Saskatoon and the Muskeg Lake First Nation, and between Kamloops and the Kamloops Indian Band.

Both sides will vote on the MOU in the next couple of months. Councillors will get their first chance to debate it in two weeks.

Following the signing, Mercer said the city hopes to stage an elaborate ratification ceremony.

Discussion of the MOU marks a change in tenor in relations between the two sides.

In the past, Yellowknives have bickered with the city over road paving, ambulance and sewage services, and bylaw enforcement.

Relations took a significant step forward last December, when the two councils met in a joint meeting.

Cravitz said it's important to establish protocols now, before land claims make Ndilo a separate entity.

The aboriginal community is currently considered a privately-owned segment of land within the city's boundaries.

"We are trying to do something that is practical for today, but we want to set some of the groundwork for that changed relationship," said Cravitz.

"I think everyone's quite keen on it because it should be somewhat precedent-setting for Canada."