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Settling Yukon First Nation land claims and self-government agreements in the Yukon involved decades of hard work, innovation and commitment by leaders and visionaries.
This website shares some of the stories of the people and events that helped map the way to a new governance landscape for all Yukoners.
“The only way we feel we can have a future is to settle our land claim … that will return to us our lost pride, self-respect and economic independence. We are not here looking for a handout. We are here with a plan...”
First Nation people have lived in the Yukon for thousands of years. In the 1800s, the arrival of the first traders, trappers, miners and missionaries from outside the Yukon changed the territory forever.
In the early 1900s, Chief Jim Boss recognized the effect that newly arrived settlers had on Yukon First Nations. He wrote two letters to the Government of Canada seeking recognition and protection for his people and their lands. His efforts mark the first formal steps on the journey to settling land claims.
In 1973, Elijah Smith led a delegation of Yukon First Nation leaders to present Together Today for our Children Tomorrow to the Prime Minister of Canada. This document petitioned the Government of Canada to negotiate land claims with Yukon First Nations.
After two decades of negotiations, the Umbrella Final Agreement was signed in 1993. It provided the template for individual Yukon First Nations to negotiate their agreements, and between 1993 and 2005, 11 of Yukon’s 14 First Nations signed their Final and Self-Government Agreements.
The Indian Act comes into effect in Canada.
The Klondike Gold Rush brings thousands of gold-seekers to the Yukon.
Chief Jim Boss recognizes the effect new settlers have on Yukon First Nations and petitions the Government of Canada.
The Alaska-Canada Highway is constructed, further opening the Yukon to outside influences.
Yukon First Nations come together through organizations including the Yukon Native Brotherhood, the Yukon Association of Non-Status Indians and the Council of Yukon Indians.
The Government of Canada puts forward the White Paper, which is rejected by First Nations and is a catalyst for them to work together for the recognition of their rights.
The Supreme Court of Canada’s decision in the Calder case prompts the Government of Canada to develop a new policy to address Aboriginal land claims.
Yukon land claim negotiations begin when Elijah Smith and Yukon First Nation leaders present Together Today for our Children Tomorrow to the Prime Minister of Canada.
Intermittent negotiations occur between the Government of Canada and the Council of Yukon Indians. The Government of Yukon joins the negotiation process in 1979.
An Agreement in Principle is negotiated. It is later rejected by Yukon First Nations due to several concerns, including the absence of a self-government component.
The Government of Canada, the Government of Yukon and the Council of Yukon Indians sign the Umbrella Final Agreement.
11 Yukon First Nations sign Final and Self-Government Agreements.
Traditional Territory is the land that a First Nation historically used and occupied, which was determined by the First Nation and defined in its Final Agreement. The map outlines the boundaries of Self-Governing Yukon First Nation traditional territories.
First Nation use of its traditional territory began long before the Yukon’s boundaries were established. The traditional territories of some First Nations extend west into Alaska, south into British Columbia and east into the Northwest Territories.
Although a First Nation does not own all the land within its traditional territory, the First Nation and its citizens do have a number of rights within their respective traditional territory, for example, the right to hunt and fish.
Settlement Land is the land that a First Nation owns and manages as defined by its Final Agreement.
Chief Jim Boss laid the foundation for First Nation land claims almost 100 years before the first agreements were signed in the Yukon.
Boss was born in 1857, and was the hereditary Chief of the Ta’an Kwäch’än. In the late 1800s, he recognized that the influx of people — as a result of the Klondike Gold Rush — was significantly impacting Yukon First Nations and their way of life.
In 1900 and 1902, Boss wrote to the Yukon Commissioner and the Superintendent General of Indian Affairs requesting compensation for his people’s loss of land and hunting grounds.
These letters are now recognized as the first attempt to secure a land claim for Yukon First Nations. Chief Boss was an influential advocate for his people until his death in 1950.“...the Indians are unable to subsist as they were formerly able to do... He [Jim Boss] says ‘tell the King very hard we want something for our Indians because they take our land and our game.’” From a letter Jim Boss wrote through lawyer T.W. Jackson to the Superintendent General of Indian Affairs, dated January 13, 1902
The 1960s and 1970s were a time of great social change around the world. They also marked the beginning of a new era for First Nations in Canada.
First Nation people throughout Canada were finding a common voice and working together for the recognition of their rights. In the Yukon, the Yukon Native Brotherhood was formed in 1968. The following year, further momentum was gained in the territory and across the country as First Nation people soundly rejected the White Paper.
In early 1973, the Calder case was a catalyst in the Government of Canada’s development of a new Aboriginal land claims policy to guide negotiations. In February of that year, the Yukon Native Brotherhood presented Together Today for our Children Tomorrow to the Prime Minister of Canada.
Yukon First Nations were unwavering in their vision to ensure that they, and not the Government of Canada, would determine who should benefit from their land claim agreements. Subsequently in 1973, the Council of Yukon Indians was established
to negotiate land claims. It brought together the Yukon Native Brotherhood and the Yukon Association of Non-Status Indians to represent all Yukon First Nation people and negotiate land claims on their behalf.
Elijah Smith, or Tä Me in Southern Tutchone, was born in Champagne in 1912. During World War II, he was stationed in England with the Canadian Army for six years.
His experience in the war profoundly changed his views on equality, how First Nations were treated in Canada, and the need to protect First Nation land and way of life.
Smith was a respected speaker for his people. He was Chief of the Whitehorse Indian Band and was instrumental in forming the Yukon Native Brotherhood, the Yukon Association of Non-Status Indians and the Council of Yukon Indians. In 1973, he led a delegation of Yukon First Nation leaders to Ottawa to present Together Today for our Children Tomorrow to the Prime Minister of Canada, which marked the beginning of modern land claim negotiations in the Yukon.
In 1976, Smith was inducted into the Order of Canada. He remained a prominent leader until his death in 1991. Today, a federal government building and an elementary school in Whitehorse are named in his honour, however his true legacy lies in the achievement of land claim and Self-Government Agreements by Yukon First Nations.
On February 14, 1973, the Yukon Native Brotherhood, led by Elijah Smith, along with a delegation of Yukon First Nation leaders, presented Together Today for our Children Tomorrow: A Statement of Grievances and an Approach to Settlement by the Yukon Indian People to then Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau.
This ground-breaking document was developed by the Yukon Native Brotherhood in close consultation with Yukon First Nation Elders and community members. It laid out the past and present state of Yukon First Nations. It also made recommendations for a better future, including land and cash settlements.
Prime Minister Trudeau accepted the statement on behalf of the Government of Canada. Together Today for our Children Tomorrow became the basis for negotiating Yukon First Nation land claims.
Yukon First Nations present Together Today for Our Children Tomorrow to the Prime Minister of Canada on February 14, 1973 in Ottawa
A land claim agreement is a modern-day treaty. It defines rights, including the ownership and management of land and resources, based on a First Nation’s use and occupancy of that land. Eleven Yukon First Nations have signed a land claim (Final Agreement) and a Self-Government Agreement with the Government of Canada and the Government of Yukon.
Other agreements that address financing and implementation accompany the Final and Self-Government Agreements.
The UFA, built on the principles introduced by Together Today for our Children Tomorrow, was the first step in the Yukon’s modern land claim settlement process. It acted as the framework for negotiating individual Yukon First Nation Final and Self-Government Agreements. The UFA also includes chapters that address land, compensation, self-government, and the formation of boards and committees to provide community-based input to government decision-making.
Yukon is at the forefront of Aboriginal land claims and self-government in Canada. Eleven of the territory’s 14 First Nations have settled their land claims and are self-governing. This represents approximately half of all such agreements in Canada. These 11 Yukon First Nations are no longer administered by the Indian Act:
Three Yukon First Nations remain administered by the Indian Act:
The Southern Tutchone and Tlingit ancestors of the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations (CAFN) followed a subsistence lifestyle that included trapping and trading. Today, harvesting the bounties of the land continues to connect CAFN citizens to their heritage and homelands.
CAFN traditional territory is situated in southwest Yukon and extends into northern British Columbia, including large areas within Kluane National Park, Kusawa Territorial Park and Tatshenshini-Alsek Park. CAFN is named for two of its historic settlements.
In May 1993, CAFN, the Government of Yukon and the Government of Canada signed Final and Self-Government Agreements.
The traditional territory of the First Nation of Na-Cho Nyäk Dun (NND) lies in northeastern Yukon and reaches into the Northwest Territories. The First Nation’s government administration is in Mayo.
Na-Cho Nyäk Dun means “Big River People” in Northern Tutchone. Historically, the NND traded with the Tlingit of southeast Alaska and with early explorers in the region.
In May 1993, NND, the Government of Yukon and the Government of Canada signed Final and Self-Government Agreements.
Teslin Tlingit Council (TTC) traditional territory lies in south Yukon and extends into northern British Columbia.
Originally coastal Tlingit from southeast Alaska, the ancestors of the Teslin Tlingit first moved inland to the Upper Taku River and later to the shores of Teslin Lake. In the 1940s, the construction of the Alaska-Canada Highway brought drastic changes, and prompted them to settle in what is now Teslin.
Today, Tlingit traditions and culture are intact, and the First Nation’s five clans play a key role in contemporary society.
In May 1993, TTC, the Government of Yukon and the Government of Canada signed Final and Self-Government Agreements.
The traditional territory of Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation (VGFN) extends across north Yukon into Alaska and the Northwest Territories. VGFN is centred in Old Crow, the Yukon’s most northerly and only fly-in community.
Vuntut Gwitchin means “People of the Lakes.” Today, VGFN retains a vital connection to the Porcupine Caribou herd, which is a primary source of food for the First Nation. The herd migrates over 2,500 kilometres through the First Nation’s traditional territory each year.
In May 1993, VGFN, the Government of Yukon and the Government of Canada signed Final and Self-Government Agreements.
The traditional territory of Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation (LSCFN) lies in south central Yukon.
The oral history of the LSCFN reveals contact and trade relationships with early explorers and traders. When the Klondike Highway from Whitehorse to Dawson City was built in 1950, many LSCFN people settled in Carmacks, the First Nation’s administrative centre. Today, the First Nation follows a traditional form of governance.
In July 1997, LSCFN, the Government of Yukon and the Government of Canada signed Final and Self-Government Agreements.
The traditional territory of Selkirk First Nation (SFN) lies in central Yukon. The First Nation’s administrative centre is in Pelly Crossing.
Originally, the SFN people resided in Fort Selkirk and were known as the Hućha Hudän, or “Flatland People.” They traded with the coastal Tlingit and would meet during each summer’s fish camps. They moved to Minto and later Pelly Crossing during the construction of the North Klondike Highway in the 1950s.
In July 1997, SFN, the Government of Yukon and the Government of Canada signed Final and Self-Government Agreements.
Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in (TH) means “People of the River” in Hän. The First Nation’s traditional territory lies along Yukon’s west-central border, and many of its citizens live in Dawson City, found at the confluence of the Klondike and Yukon rivers (Klondike is actually a mispronunciation of Tr’ondëk).
Hän-speaking people have lived in this area for thousands of years. Today, TH citizens include descendants of people who spoke Hän, Northern Tutchone and Gwich’in.
In July 1998, TH, the Government of Yukon and the Government of Canada signed Final and Self-Government Agreements.
The traditional territory of Ta’an Kwäch’än Council (TKC) in south central Yukon includes Lake Laberge (Tàa’an Män), from which the First Nation derives its name. Today, about half of TKC citizens live in Whitehorse.
After Chief Jim Boss petitioned the Government of Canada in 1902, Ta’an Kwäch’än was granted a small reserve. In 1956–1957, the Government of Canada amalgamated Ta’an Kwäch’än into the Whitehorse Indian Band, known today as Kwanlin Dün First Nation. Ta’an Kwäch’än later re-established itself as a distinct First Nation.
In January 2002, TKC, the Government of Yukon and the Government of Canada signed Final and Self-Government Agreements.
The traditional territory of Kluane First Nation (KFN) extends from the shores of Kluane Lake northeast to the Ruby and Nisling mountain ranges and southwest to the St. Elias mountains in Kluane National Park.
Called the Lù’àn Män Ku Dän, or “Kluane Lake People,” KFN citizens have close relationships with neighbouring Champagne and Aishihik First Nations and Upper Tanana in Alaska. Today, the First Nation is centered in Burwash Landing.
In October 2003, KFN, the Government of Yukon and the Government of Canada signed Final and Self-Government Agreements.
Kwanlin means “running water through canyon,” and refers to Miles Canyon in Whitehorse, which lies in the traditional territory of Kwanlin Dün First Nation (KDFN). KDFN citizens are of Southern Tutchone, Tagish Kwan and Tlingit descent, and most live in Whitehorse today.
In 1956–1957, Kwanlin Dün was amalgamated with Ta’an Kwäch’än by the Government of Canada and was known as the Whitehorse Indian Band. Kwanlin Dün later re-established itself as a distinct First Nation.
In February 2005, KDFN, the Government of Yukon and the Government of Canada signed Final and Self-Government Agreements.
Carcross/Tagish First Nation (CTFN) citizens are of Tagish and Inland Tlingit descent. The First Nation’s traditional territory extends from the head of the historic Chilkoot Trail in Dyea, Alaska to just north of Whitehorse.
Six clans are represented within CTFN’s governance structure: four under the Crow Moiety (lineage) and two under the Wolf Moiety.
In October 2005, CTFN, the Government of Yukon and the Government of Canada signed Final and Self-Government Agreements.
Yukon First Nation Self-Government and Final Agreements are being brought to life as the provisions defined in the agreements are implemented on a daily basis, to the benefit of all Yukoners.
For example, sustaining the rich cultural legacy inherited from their ancestors continues to be a priority for all Yukon First Nations. Several have also created economic development corporations to help ensure economic sustainability and create employment for their citizens.
From the protection and management of Settlement Land, special areas and heritage resources, to the cultivation of intergovernmental relationships within this new governance landscape, implementation of the agreements is dynamic and evolving and continues to shape the Yukon’s present and future.
Mapping the Way is an initiative that celebrates and raises awareness about Yukon First Nation land claims and self-government.
This initiative is a partnership between the Government of Canada, the Government of Yukon, the Council of Yukon First Nations and all 11 Self-Governing Yukon First Nations. These 14 parties work together to implement land claims and self-government in the territory.
We gratefully acknowledge the leaders and visionaries, individuals and organizations, and Elders, youth and community members who came together to make Yukon First Nation land claims and Self-Government a reality for all Yukoners.
We also thank the following champions for generously sharing their expertise, their knowledge and their stories:
A special thanks to all the individuals in our respective governments and organizations who helped to make this website possible: