Chief Doris Bill of the Kwanlin Dün First Nation says its new Lands Act is an historic development that will greatly enhance its path to self-determination.
The act provides the First Nation with the authority to manage, protect and enforce laws on settlement land.
It also provides the authority to make settlement land available for residential housing, commercial lots and industrial lots.
“This act guides how we, as a First Nation, will continue to grow and protect and thrive on the lands of our ancestors,” Bill told people gathered Tuesday morning at the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre to celebrate the act.
“As they used it for generations to live and work and raise families, so will we for generations to come.”
Under the act, citizens of Kwanlin Dün – and eventually non-citizens – will be able to purchase leasehold interest on a piece of land on which they can register in the Yukon’s land title office so they borrow money from the bank to build.
It will provide citizens with the ability to pass the lease down to their children or even sell the lease and the home.
Bill explained the first order of business is to deal with more than 350 historical expressions of interest in land from citizens that are already on the books, going as far back as the 1980s.
The chief said it will take more than a year to deal with the backlog, and the First Nation won’t be accepting any new applications for land until it has completed the work.
In the meantime, however, the First Nation will be in discussions with its development corporation regarding the potential for the creation of residential subdivisions on settlement land, as well as making commercial and industrial lots available on settlement land, Bill explained.
The chief noted how there have been many people responsible for the act who have worked tirelessly over the years for Kwanlin Dün’s Indigenous rights.
“It’s for the people who dedicated their lives to negotiating our final and self-government agreements,” she said.
“We can make this announcement here today because of their grit and determination. They had a vision for our settlement lands and they could see what the future could be.
“This act is also for our youth and our future citizens not born yet, so that they will have access and connection to our lands forever.”
Under the land claim settlements in the Yukon, First Nations are prohibited from selling their settlement lands.
Also on hand Tuesday to make comments was former Kwanlin Dün chief Rick O’Brien, who began developing the Lands Act in 2011 during his first term in office.
O’Brien said the work really goes back to the early 1970s, when First Nations began their push for land claim settlements in the Yukon.
Kwanlin Dün elder councillor Judy Gingell, a former grand chief of what was then the Council for Yukon Indians, also spoke about the effort of so many over the years who made yesterday possible.
Kwanlin Dün’s Lands Act came into effect on Oct. 15.
“We also have a land management system that allows us to provide land to build homes, cabins and camps, make land available for traditional use, like hunting and fishing, and protect settlement land for future generations,” said the chief.
A press release issued at Tuesday’s announcement notes the following background:
• Kwanlin Dün owns 264 parcels of settlement land. In total, there are 1,042 square kilometres of settlement land. There are 84 parcels of settlement land within the City of Whitehorse, totalling approximately 24 km2.
• The Lands Act provides Kwanlin Dün with the authority to manage settlement land, including protecting settlement land against unauthorized uses, environmental damage, trespassing, pollution and littering.
• The Lands Act applies to all Kwanlin Dün settlement land. It will not apply to non-settlement land within Kwanlin Dün’s traditional territory. It applies to anyone using Kwanlin Dün settlement land.
• In 2017, Kwanlin Dün created a Land Vision with direction from Kwanlin Dün beneficiaries and citizens. The vision guides how Kwanlin Dün manages and uses settlement land, setting out four main goals: community development, wildlife, heritage and revenue generation.
• Council directed that Kwanlin Dün’s Traditional Territory Land Vision guided the development of the act.
• In 2018, Kwanlin Dün made history by registering a parcel of settlement land in the Yukon Land Titles Office, receiving the first Certificate of Title for Category A Settlement Land in the Yukon. This makes it possible for individuals or businesses to purchase a leasehold interest on settlement land and register it in the Yukon Land Titles Office.