Yukon Land Claims

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The Yukon Land Claims refer to the process of negotiating and settling aboriginal land claims agreements in Yukon, Canada.

History[edit]

Unlike other parts of Canada, Yukon First Nations did not conclude any treaties until the 1990s, despite Chief Jim Boss of the Ta'an Kwach'an requesting compensation for lost lands and hunting grounds as a result of the Klondike Gold Rush in 1902. Boss' letter was ignored and it was not until the 1970s that the issue was raised again.

The current process started in 1973 with the publication of Together Today For our Children Tomorrow by Chief Elijah Smith.

Negotiations took place in the late 1970s and early 1980s, culminating in an agreement which was ultimately rejected.

Negotiations resumed in the late 1980s and culminated to the "Umbrella Final Agreement" (UFA) in 1990. The UFA is used as the framework or template for individual agreements with each of the fourteen Yukon First Nations. It came into force in 1992 when the first four First Nations ratified their land claims agreements. To date (August 2005), ten of the fourteen First Nations have signed and ratified an agreement, another two have signed agreements which were not ratified after being defeated in referendums, and two are still being negotiated.

Unlike most other Canadian land claims agreements that apply only to Status Indians, the Yukon First Nations insisted that the agreements involve everyone they considered part of their nation, whether they were recognized as Status Indians or not. In 1973, the Yukon Indian Brotherhood and the Yukon Association of Non-Status Indians formed the Council for Yukon Indians (CYI) to negotiate a land claims agreement. The two organizations and the Council formally merged in 1980 under the Council for Yukon Indians name. In 1995, CYI was renamed to the Council of Yukon First Nations.

Prior to the agreement[edit]

Before Yukon First Nations were self governing there were multiple limitations for how they could utilize their land. Before the agreement, Yukon First Nations claimed the land and resources in Yukon to be under their ownership.[1] This was based on traditional occupancy and use of that land. Instead, all affairs in Yukon were controlled by Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC).[1] INAC had the responsibility of law, land reserves, health, social services, and housing. Yukon First Nation bands implemented these programs, but had no authority to modify them.[1]

The Yukon Native Brotherhood[edit]

In 1968, Chief Elijah Smith founded the Yukon Native Brotherhood with 12 Yukon First Nation bands. This brotherhood was formed in order to voice the Yukon First Nations rights. This was an important event for the progress towards the UFA and ultimately self governing.[2]

Together Today for Our Children Tomorrow[edit]

In January 1973, Chief Elijah Smith wrote Together Today for Our Children Tomorrow.[2] Smith, together with a delegation of other Yukon elders, including Roddy Blackjack of the Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation, presented this text to Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau in order to provide reasons why the Yukon First Nations should gain independence and self-governing authority.[3]

In the introduction, Smith writes about the Yukon Native Brotherhood seeking a settlement that is both fair and just for the Yukon First Nations and the Government of Canada.[2] In the second part of the text, Smith talks about the struggle the Aboriginals of Canada went through in recent history. To strengthen his claim, Smith highlights the major events that altered the Aboriginal’s way of life. Smith includes: the Fur Trade, the Klondike Gold Rush of 1896, Residential Schools, Alaska Highway, and the Dawson Highway.[4] In the third portion of Smith’s text, the contemporary issues at the time are emphasized. Smith tries to break the stereotype of the Yukon Aboriginals at the time. Smith presents many assumptions that the Whiteman makes about the Yukon Aboriginals, and challenges them by providing his view. Smith also provides the Aboriginals perspective on the Whiteman. He makes it clear that there is distinction between the Whiteman and the Aboriginals, hence the Aboriginals must have the ability to manage their own society.[4] Prior to discussing the details of the settlement, Smith makes provides numerous ways of how the settlement will benefit the future generations. In the fourth part of the text, titled Tomorrow, Smith explains how the Yukon First Nations would use their independence if a settlement is constructed. Smith provides eight different areas Yukon First Nations would focus on:

Programs

Smith talks about how there are specific programs set up by the Canadian Government don’t benefit the Aboriginal population in Yukon, and in some cases actually do more harm than good. To change this, the Yukon First Nations will remove certain programs, and simultaneously implement new programs.[4]

Our Old People

The settlement put in place will also benefit the elderly population of the Yukon society. Smith talks about how the elderly live in senior citizen homes being taken care of by White administrators. Instead, Smith suggests that the elderly people move back into villages, and get taken care of by their own people. The elderly could receive financial support through the Settlement Fund.[4] Ultimately, the elderly would be able to pass down their wisdom to future generations, keeping the Aboriginal culture alive.

Our Cultural Identity

Smith also focuses on the cultural importance of the Yukon First Nations. He states that the younger generations must be informed of their heritage in order to preserve it. In the past, the younger people were taught to be ashamed of their heritage, but this can be changed with a settlement.[4] By forming a settlement, the Yukon society will be able to focus on their culture without being influenced by the Whiteman.

Community Development

Many of the communities in Yukon were extremely underdeveloped. Poor health, low income, poor housing, and unemployment are just a few factors that contributed to the poor state of these communities.[4] Smith suggests that with the settlement many communities will be able to create municipal governments. Through this, development can be resurrected in these communities, and progress can be achieved.

Education

Smith explains how the education provided by the Canadian Government is not relevant to the values and beliefs of the Yukon Aboriginals. The Canadian government provides education regarding the economy, and primarily encourages students to go onto post secondary education.[4] Smith believes that if Yukon First Nations are provided with the ability to change the education system they would be able to create relevant and fitting programs for Aboriginal people.[4] Programs could include education about land, art, and craft.

Economic Development

In Yukon, the majority of businesses were controlled by white employers. Smith challenged this fact by explaining that Aboriginals must be given the opportunity of having a bigger responsibility in the economic spectrum.[4] Smith suggests multiple economic development projects that the Yukon Native Brotherhood has came up with.

Communications

Smith states that in order for Yukon communities to flourish, the people must have the opportunity to express themselves. Aboriginals of Yukon must have the option to create material through radio, TV, and newspapers.[4]

Research

Lastly, Smith makes a point about privatized research about the progress in Yukon. He states that Yukon First Nations will conduct research, but it must benefit their own communities instead of the outside ones. Smith also mentions necessary help if the settlement is formed. Smith refers to the organizations necessary to manage land, money, and programs in Yukon.[4] He concludes this part of Together Today for Our Children Tomorrow by stating: “The first five years of the implementation will tell if this Settlement will be able to do for our children what we plan it to do”.[5]

Provisions of agreements[edit]

The UFA provided for a total amount of compensation and a land quantum amounting to about 13 per cent of the Yukon's area to be returned to First Nations. Most of the land is owned outright by First Nation governments, although a number of existing reserves were retained.

Each land claims agreement is also accompanied by a Self-Government agreement that gives First Nations the right to enact legislation in a number of areas. Other provisions of the Land Claims agreement are the elimination of taxation exemptions for Yukon First Nations people (effective January 1, 2001), a restriction of hunting rights of other aboriginal peoples on each First Nation's traditional territory, etc.

External links[edit]

References[edit]