New Development: City gives 50/50 lot to YK Dene

The lot, bought recently by the City for $1.45 million, will be given to the Dene for $1

The City of Yellowknife is giving its prized downtown lot at 50th Avenue and 50th Street to the Yellowknives Dene First Nation, EDGEYK.com has learned.

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, a city councillor confirmed that an unprecedented deal has been reached through ongoing, behind-the-scenes negotiations between City officials, council and the Yellowknives Dene to hand over the vacant lot for $1.

“We just felt it was the right thing to do, to give the space back to its rightful owners and let them develop it as they see fit,” said the councillor, adding that the deal was brokered based on a solid, multi-tiered commitment to use the space as a combined Dene cultural and public arts centre.

The culture and arts centre will receive funding through the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency, Heritage Canada, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, as well as several GNWT departments. Apart from its $1.45 million donation of the land, the City of Yellowknife will be on the hook for half of the centre’s annual operating and maintenance costs, the councillor says.

Because of the centre’s substantial funding support from the federal government, councillors and the Yellowknives Dene First Nation have been ordered to stay mum on the deal until National Aboriginal Day in June, when the Conservative government plans to make an official announcement that will tie into its federal election campaign.

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Councillors were even given speaking notes with suggested media responses to questions about the lot’s future, such as, “I think we need to get creative,” “Anything’s better than nothing,” and “I am not for parks,” which they put to use in a poll published Friday in the Yellowknifer.

A Yellowknives Dene band councillor who requested anonymity was reluctant to confirm the deal, but did say something is in the works that will celebrate the heritage of the Yellowknives Dene, “as well as be a gathering place for people of all cultures.”

Sources in Ndilo say talks are underway to revive the Smokehouse Cafe and make it the centre’s anchor food tenant. It’s believed the cafeteria-style restaurant could resurrect the camaraderie of the old Miner’s Mess, which used to operate on the site, as well as reinstate the food industry training it had been offering to youth.

Management for the Centre Square Mall, which has been identified by the City as “key” to any future plans for the empty parking lot, is wholly on board.

“There’s obviously no shortage of retail space downtown, and we would love to fill our vacancies, so something that attracts tourists and locals alike will obviously draw traffic,” mall spokesperson Hope Rains said from her office in Kelowna, B.C.

Spokespeople from several federal departments declined specific comment on a culture and arts centre, but in multiple, identical emailed messages, said “the Harper Government remains committed to Canada’s economic and social well-being, which benefits from strong, self-sufficient Aboriginal and northern communities.”

The GNWT said a government announcement will be made in June.

For anyone still wondering, this is an April Fool’s joke. Sorry if you feel punked, hopefully you’re a little inspired as well.

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