Chapter 5 – Yukon Indigenous Peoples and Governance

Modern Day Self-Determination

Self-government is not new to Yukon’s Indigenous peoples, they have been self-governing since time immemorial. With the introduction of the Indian Act in 1876, traditional forms of self-governance that had been practiced for thousands of years were replaced with a colonial western model that was meant to support assimilation efforts by the federal government (Canada 1876). As the authors of Together Today for Our Children Tomorrow write:

First, remember, there were never any wars between Indian and White in the Yukon. Second, remember, there were no treaties signed in the Yukon. Third, remember, the first Indian Act was designed to protect the Indian from the Whiteman. This concept was never applied in the Yukon. These three things are important, because they combine to make the YUKON claim different from other Settlements [Council for Yukon Indians 1977:17–18].

The Yukon claim referred to in the proceeding quote was made by Yukon’s Indigenous peoples as represented by the Council for Yukon Indians (CYI) in 1973. As mentioned in chapter 4, Chief Elijah Smith, as well as 12 other Yukon Chiefs, formed the Yukon Native Brotherhood in 1968 with the goal of creating a strong, united voice for Yukon Indigenous peoples who wanted to regain the right to govern themselves. One outcome of this initiative was the creation of the Yukon Indigenous authored document Together Today for Our Children Tomorrow, quoted above, which propelled land claim negotiations forward between Yukon First Nation peoples and the Government of Canada under Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau (see section A Dynamic Future, Figure 5.1). Together to Today for Our Children Tomorrow described the heart of the major issues as Yukon First Nations saw them but also suggested a road map towards a future where all Yukon peoples could flourish. Key to this future was an ability to co-govern and work together. During the mid-20th century there was growing unrest within Indigenous communities which occurred alongside the growing civil rights movements in other parts of the Americas. There was also serious backlash following the release of the Government of Canada’s White Paper in 1969, entitled Statement of the Government of Canada on Indian Policy (Canada 1969). The White Paper proposed to:

Eliminate Indian status, dissolve the Department of Indian Affairs within five years, abolish the Indian Act, convert reserve land to private property that could be sold by the band or its members, transfer responsibility for Indian affairs from the federal government to the province and integrate services with other Canadian citizen services, provide funding for economic development, and appoint a commissioner to address outstanding land claims and eventually terminate existing treaties [First Nations and Indigenous Studies, University of British Columbia 2009].

Yukon First Nation peoples, who were a part of the civil rights movement, were, like many First Nations across the country, also angered by the White Paper which many agreed was a “a thinly disguised programme of extermination through assimilation” (Cardinal 1969:1). Because of this unrest, and also growing development interests in the north, the Government of Canada was forced to consider Yukon First Nation land claims. Negotiations for the next two decades centered around the Umbrella Final agreement (UFA).  It was through the Yukon Native Brotherhood organization that Yukon Chiefs came together and formed the Council for Yukon Indians (CYI) who became the negotiating body representing Yukon First Nations peoples in land claims. By the end of the 1970s, “…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”[1] (Council of Yukon First Nations 2019a). The CYI continued its role of representing Yukon First Nations throughout the land claim negotiations process.

Over the last few decades, many of the Indigenous community leaders and Chiefs who participated in the land claim negotiations have been interviewed and their histories recorded. The end result was the development of various forms of media introducing people to Yukon’s early land claim movement and current and future approaches to governance. One important resource is the Mapping the Way website created in partnership with Kwanlin Dün First Nation (KDFN), Carcross/Tagish First Nation (CTFN), Vuntut Gwitchin Government (VGG), Kluane First Nation (KFN), Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in First Nation (TH), Ta’an Kwäch’än Council (TTC), First Nation of Nacho Nyak Dun (NND), Champagne and Aishihik First Nation (CAFN), Teslin Tlingit Council (TTC), Selkirk First Nation (SFN), Little Salmon Carmacks First Nation (LSCFN), Council of Yukon First Nations (CYFN), Yukon Government (YG) and the Government of Canada (GOC) (Mapping the Way 2019). The Mapping the Way website includes podcast interviews with leaders who were at the forefront of the Yukon land claim movement and negotiations, many of whom are currently involved in implementation of the agreements. These include: John Burdek, former Chairperson of Kwanlin Dün First Nation and signatory to the KDFN Self-Government and Final Agreements; Angie Joseph-Rear, former Chief of Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in; Joe Linklater, Chief of Vuntut Gwitchin Government; Sam Johnston, Teslin Tlingit Council Elder, former Chief and former Member of the Yukon Legislative Assembly; Robert Hager, former Chief of First Nation of Nacho Nyak Dun, Dave Joe (Dä Ké), Champagne and Aishihik First Nation (CAFN) citizen, lawyer and land claim negotiator; Doris McLean (Guna), former Chief of the Carcross/Tagish First Nation, and Adeline Webber (Kh’ahàdê), Teslin Tlingit Council citizen and Indigenous women’s rights activist (Mapping the Way 2019).  As well, there are quotes from important leaders such as Roddy Blackjack, Little Salmon Carmacks First Nation Elder and former Chief, and excerpts from key First Nation government documents such as the Selkirk First Nation Constitution introduction which reads:

We, the Selkirk people, exercise our inherent right of self-government, and having aboriginal rights, title and interests since time immemorial in a vast area of land, do herein provide for ourselves a basis for our First Nation, for our law and for our government, in order to assure for ourselves today, and for countless generations in the future, protection of our lands and resources, protection of our language and culture, and a life that fulfills our uniqueness as human beings and sustains our well-being [Selkirk First Nation Constitution 2013:1].

The following sections will describe the results of the land claim negotiations, including the Umbrella Final Agreement (UFA), the First Nation Final Agreements and the Self-Government Agreements.


  1. Today this organization is called the Council of Yukon First Nations. The council’s current mandate is “to serve as a political advocacy organization for Yukon First Nations holding traditional territories, to protect their rights, titles and interests” (Council of Yukon First Nations 2019b). 

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ECHO: Ethnographic, Cultural and Historical Overview of Yukon's First Peoples by Victoria Elena Castillo, Christine Schreyer, and Tosh Southwick is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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