Yukon Land Claims is commonly thought to have started in 1973 with the presentation of Together Today for Our Children Tomorrow to Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau in Ottawa by Elijah Smith and a delegation of the Yukon Chiefs. However, Yukon claims had been put forward as early as 1901 and 1902 when Chief Jim Boss of the present-day Ta’an Kwach’an and surrounding area, wrote letters to the Superintendent General of Indian Affairs in Ottawa and to the Commissioner of the Yukon. Jim Boss clearly outlined the concerns being felt by many of his people in terms of the alienation of lands and resources in their traditional areas and their need to have a say in their own affairs and governance. So it is clear that prior to 1973 Yukon First Nations had long outstanding claims dating back to the time when some of the early effects of the Klondike Gold Rush and development in the Yukon were first being experienced by Yukon First Nations people.
Yukon Native Brotherhood
The Yukon Native Brotherhood was founded in the Yukon in 1968 when First Nations people throughout Canada were finding a common voice and working toward recognition of their rights. In 1969, the White Paper gave momentum to the Indian Movement as First Nations people joined forces to fight a common enemy.
By 1973, the YNB had initiated a strong grassroots movement to secure a land claims settlement for the Yukon. The claim was founded on the principle that aboriginal rights still existed in the Yukon Territory and that the Government of Canada had a longstanding obligation to negotiate a treaty with the aboriginal peoples of the Yukon. The presentation of Together Today for Our Children Tomorrow marked the beginning of a long and arduous struggle for a land claims settlement for Yukon First Nations peoples.
Council for Yukon Indians
As an offshoot of the YNB, the Council for Yukon Indians (CYI) was formed in 1973, to be the negotiating body, and negotiations began in Vancouver. The negotiations were marked by what was to become an issue in the process for some time — that of how to define the term “Indian.” The Council for Yukon Indians believed that they must represent all Yukon First Nations people whether they were ‘status’ or ‘non-status’ as defined by the Indian Act. The Federal Government was adamant that they could only negotiate in the interests of status Indians and the lands, programs, and services directed to them.
When the process commenced in 1973, negotiations were conducted between the Department of Indian Affairs and the Council for Yukon Indians. The presence of the Government of Yukon was seen as redundant as they had not yet achieved ‘responsible’ or representative government and were considered an extension of the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs. By 1979, this had changed, and the Territorial Government had joined the process as a third party. Soon after, the Council for Yukon Indians, the Yukon Association of Non-Status Indians and the Yukon Native Brotherhood amalgamated to form the Council for Yukon Indians. The CYI continued to represent Yukon First Nations in the negotiations process as well as taking on the programs and services delivery, and the political representational role of the two parent organizations. The process was to take up much of the next 20 years until the Umbrella Final Agreement was signed in 1993.
Although the process was seen as overly long, it is amazing that the agreement ultimately reached was accomplished in such a short time. The negotiations process itself encompassed or was encompassed by many major social and political changes that were taking place at the local, territorial, and national levels. Some of these included the constitutional development of the Yukon Territory and the changing social and political identity of First Nations people and groups in Canada and throughout the world. While early estimates put the length of time needed to negotiate an agreement at 2 or 3 years, there were tentative agreements reached a number of times, which ultimately fell through because they could not be readily accepted by the majority of Yukon First Nations people
In January 1984, an agreement was reached between the Minister of Indian Affairs, John Munro, and Harry Allen, Chairman of the Council for Yukon Indians. The agreement provided for approximately $620 million over 20 years and 20,000 sq. km. of land. While it meant that aboriginal rights would be ‘extinguished,’ the Federal Government chose to refer this issue to another process, the process which was attempting to define aboriginal rights in the new Constitution. When the agreement was brought to the CYI General Assembly in August 1984, it was rejected on five main points: the issue of extinguishment, the need for full recognition and affirmation of subsistence hunting, land selections based on need, control of lands, and recognition of non-status Indians. Additionally, the notion of self-government had recently been recognized as a real possibility with the publication of the Penner Report. While the Federal Government applied pressure through a number of avenues, the CYI remained firm in its decision not to accept the agreement without inclusion of the outstanding issues. It took a year or more before negotiations finally resumed in earnest.
Agreement in Principle
The new agreement-in-principle provided for $232 million over 15 years, 25,900 sq. km. of land, a buyout of tax exemption at $25.3 million, and a requirement to repay $35 million to Ottawa for negotiations. Aboriginal rights would be retained on settlement lands. As well, the agreement provided for the development of a model of self-government. While the agreement provided far less compensation money than the 1984 agreement, it did provide for slightly more land, for the recognition of aboriginal title on those lands, and self-government. Ratification meant that work could begin on the first model final agreements.
In December 1986, the Federal Government released its new claims policy, which was regarded with some favour for much of its content. These included: recognition of aboriginal title to lands, the creation of decision-making boards involved in managing natural resources, the inclusion of offshore rights negotiations, and the provision of protection of land and management procedures. Shortfalls of the policy included the lack of recognition of the right to self-government and the lack of constitutional protection of self-government agreements. While the policy was the subject of much debate, it did provide a starting point which was eventually to lead to the completion of an agreement-in-principle in 1988.
Umbrella Final Agreement
In 1990, the Umbrella Final Agreement was signed, and by November 1991, a model agreement for Indian self-government was reached, and negotiations began with four of the Yukon First Nations to settle Final Agreements which would allocate lands and settlements dollars, among other specific matters. Work also began on a model self-government agreement. The four First Nations who eventually reached their agreements were the First Nation of Nacho Nyak Dun, Champagne & Aishihik First Nations, Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation, and Teslin Tlingit Council. By 1992, self-government negotiations with the four First Nations concluded and two bills were passed in the Yukon legislature to enact the agreements. When the agreements were signed publicly by the three parties, the Federal Government, the Government of Yukon, and the Council of Yukon First Nations, the negotiations are generally thought to have come to an end. While this event did bring finality in terms of the Umbrella Final Agreement and model agreements for the four First Nations being settled, it also meant that much work was left to be done on behalf of the remaining First Nations. By 1998, three further First Nations, Little Salmon-Carmacks First Nation, Selkirk First Nation, and the Tr’ondek H’wechin First Nation had signed their agreements and become self-governing First Nations. In 2002, the Ta’an Kwach’an Council signed its agreements. In 2003, the Kluane First Nation signed its agreements. In 2005, the Kwanlin Dun First Nation and the Carcross/Tagish First Nation signed their agreements. Three First Nations remain in negotiations for their agreements and they are the White River First Nation, the Liard First Nation and the Ross River Dena Council.Read the Umbrella Final Agreement