The Yellowknives Dene First Nation will be telling houseboaters they have to move if they have settled in Yellowknives Dene Traditional Chief Drygeese Asserted Community Area they must move.

According to Ndilo Chief Ernest Bestina, four or five houseboats have drifted onto the eastern side of Yellowknife Bay and remain in Dene First Nations Territory.

Bestina was alerted to the presence of the houseboats in Dene First Nations’ territory when a band member contacted him and Bestina said he hadn’t given approval for anyone to dock within Dene territory.

Bestina said the Yellowknives Dene are asserting their treaty rights by issuing notices to the houseboat owners, and giving them one or two weeks to move their houseboat closer to Jolliffe Island, where most houseboats are docked in Yellowknife Bay.

The boundaries of the Yellowknives Dene First Nation. Photo provided.

“We want to do this before the ice freezes, if we don’t act on it right now, if the ice freezes, they won’t be moving for a while, until the springtime,” said Bestina. “We have to act on it now.”

Regulating houseboats has been a problem for the city and the territory in the past, with houseboaters asserting in 2018 that the federal government has jurisdiction over Great Slave Lake. 

But Judge Bernadette Schmaltz said the territorial government does have jurisdiction in a written court decision. 

“If a marriage took place on one of the houseboats on Great Slave Lake, it would be absurd to assert that the Northwest Territories Marriage Act could not apply…or that the Northwest Territories Motor Vehicle Act had no application to those using the ice road to Dettah,” wrote Shmaltz.

The City of Yellowknife supports the Yellowknives Dene in asserting their treaty rights, but does not have the authority to regulate houseboats, according to an email statement from Debbie Gillard, city clerk with the city.

A boundary change to the Yellowknives Dene territory is currently being reviewed by the GNWT, while details about co-management of certain areas are still being worked out.

Houseboaters are an important and valued part of the Yellowknife landscape and community,” said Gillard. “The City foresees the proposed boundary change as an opportunity for positive discussion on how the City and the houseboat community can work constructively on our common interests moving forward.”

In an interview with Moose FM, Yellowknife Mayor Rebecca Alty reiterated the city does not have jurisdiction, but will respect the process of issuing notices to the houseboaters.

A team and a boat are currently being assembled to issue the notices and Bestina said they plan to head out sometime in the next two weeks.

Bestina said if the houseboat owners refuse to move, then they may ask the RCMP to get involved.