Linguistically, the Kwanlin Dün are affiliated with the Southern Tutchone Tribal Council. The Kwanlin Dün include people of Southern Tutchone, Tagish and Tlingit descent. A large number of Kwanlin Dün citizens live in the Whitehorse area, with the balance dispersed throughout Canada, the U.S. (predominantly Alaska) and abroad.
The waterway now called Miles Canyon through to the Whitehorse Rapids was well known to generations of First Nations people. Our ancestors called the area Kwanlin, which means “running water through canyon” in Southern Tutchone. Not only was this section of the river an excellent area for fishing, but well worn trails on the banks of the canyon tell of centuries of people travelling overland in search of game.
The History of our Land
Stone tools tell of our ancestors were here just after the last ice age, harvesting salmon and hunting caribou and buffalo. The banks of the river were lined with fish camps, lookout points, hunting grounds, burial sites and meeting places. Our values, language and traditions are rooted in this land.
Scarcely recognized today is the fact that for centuries, before the influx of recent adventurers, the headwaters of the Yukon River were home for the Tagish Kwan, and a regular meeting place for people of other First Nations who came to trade with them, including the Tlingit, Kaska, Han, Gwich’in and Tutchone. They welcomed other First Nations from as far away as Atlin and Tagish to the southeast, Little Salmon to the northwest and the Kluane area to the west. Nomadic by necessity, the Tagish Kwan would follow the migratory patters of caribou, moose, elk and other game and fur-bearing animals.
Kwanlin Dün youth, working with archaeologists, have found stone spear points and scrapers in the area, dating back thousands of years. Recent digs at Annie Lake and Fish Lake, both within minutes of downtown Whitehorse, confirm the existence and continual use of season hunting and fishing camps for more than 5,000 years.
Life changed forever at the turn of the last century with the building of Whitehorse. Our people still made much of their living on the land but they now came to the new town to trade fur and find work. Usually, they continued to live where they always had: along the waterfront.
In 1900, at the height of the Klondike Gold Rush, Chief Jim Boss (Kishxóot) of the Ta’an Kwäch’än recognized that his people needed protection for their land and hunting grounds in the wake of a growing non-Aboriginal population. Chief Boss petitioned the Commissioner of the Yukon, William Ogilvie, for a 1,600 acre reserve at Ta’an Män, which he had already surveyed. Instead, a reserve of only 320 acres was granted. Not satisfied with this outcome, in 1902 Chief Boss wrote to the Department of Indian Affairs in Ottawa, demanding that over-hunting by newcomers be controlled and that his people be compensated for lost land and the impacts on wildlife. This letter contained his famous quote “Tell the King very hard we want something for our Indians, because they take our land and our game”. The only response Chief Boss received was that the police would protect his people and their land. The exchange of these letters represents the first attempt at land claims negotiations by a Yukon First Nation.
For the next 70 years, the federal government ignored similar pleas from Yukon First Nations. During that time, the first inhabitants were repeatedly displaced from land they had used and occupied for centuries, with neither consultation nor compensation.
It took Ottawa six years to grant Rev. John Hawksley’s request for a reserve north of town. The 282.3 acres set aside lay in a flood plain next to the sewage outfall, in what is now Marwell industrial area. By 1948, after alienating several acres for road and defense uses with no compensation, Ottawa withdrew the status of Whitehorse Indian Reserve No.8 as a reserve under the Indian Act. Once again, the first inhabitants had no solid claim to their traditional land.
In 1956, the Department of Indian Affairs unilaterally decided there were too many Indian bands in the Yukon Territory and, for administrative purposes, joined six bands into three. This brought about the amalgamation of the Indigenous people between Marsh Lake and Lake Laberge who, for various reasons, had migrated into the larger Whitehorse area. Thus, the Department of Indian Affairs created the Whitehorse Indian Band, known today as the Kwanlin Dün First Nation.
Our Land Claims
In 1972, a contingent of Yukon First Nation leaders, led by the late Elijah Smith, presented Prime Minister Pierre E. Trudeau with a document called Together Today for Our Children Tomorrow. At the core of their message was a clear statement: “without land, Indian people have no soul – no life, no identity – no purpose”. Thus began a Yukon land claims process that still continues to this day.
In 1988, after many years of being displaced, Kwanlin Dün First Nation moved to its present site west of the Alaska Highway, on land intended for a subdivision adjacent to a pipeline that was never constructed.
After many decades of negotiating, Kwanlin Dün First Nation signed its Final Agreement and Self-Governing Agreement, which became part of Canada’s constitution, and came into effect on April 1, 2005. On this day, Kwanlin Dün officially became the tenth self-governing Yukon First Nation.
Since settling the Self-Government Agreements, the Kwanlin Dün have operated and negotiated with the Federal and territorial and all other governments as a self-governing First Nation government.
The Government of the Kwanlin Dün First Nation, in accordance with its Constitution, is comprised of the General Assembly, the Council, the Elders Council, the Youth Council and the Judicial Council. Kwanlin Dün First Nation citizens elect a Chief and 6 Councillors every three years. The headquarters of the Kwanlin Dün First Nation are located at 35 McIntyre Drive in Whitehorse, Yukon.
We, the people of Kwanlin Dün First Nation, made the choice to take responsibility for our future. At the signing ceremony for Kwanlin Dün’s Self-Government Agreement on February 19, 2005, Chief Mike Smith said, “We look forward to pass on our legacy to future generations. We are marking a new beginning for our people in economic prosperity, cultural strength and our rights under the law, which will be accepted and respected by other governments.”
Kwanlin Dün has a diverse population and is located in the most populated area of the Yukon. The land claim agreements KDFN has negotiated with the Government of Canada and Government of Yukon contain many provisions that reflect the First Nation’s unique circumstances.
The KDFN land claim agreements have a number of distinctive aspects. One reason for this is the fact that KDFN’s Traditional Territory encompasses the Yukon’s capital and economic heartland, the City of Whitehorse. Approximately 75 per cent of Yukon’s population lives on KDFN Traditional Territory. Also, special arrangements had to be made, as KDFN has a long history and strong association with the Yukon River and Whitehorse Waterfront.
Kwanlin Dün’s land claim ensures our key heritage sites are protected. The final agreement also provides funding for Kwanlin Dün to share our history and cultural heritage with the community and visitors from around the world. Specific provisions in the agreement include:
KDFN’s Traditional Territory includes the area that Kwanlin Dün people traditionally used and occupied. As part of the land claim settlement, KDFN received 1,036 sq. km. of settlement land within the traditional territory. Chapter 10 of KDFN’s Final Agreement aims to maintain and protect important areas in the Yukon by establishing Special Management Areas (SMAs). Under Chapter 10, two SMAs have been created – Kusawa Park and Lewes Marsh Habitat Protection Area.
Kwanlin Dün First Nation, one of the largest Yukon First Nations, has established a system of responsible self-government. The transition from an Indian Act government to a Self-Governing First Nation has brought many changes to ensure that Kwanlin Dün First Nation is a government that respects First Nations culture, delivers appropriate programs and services that promote health, wellness and prosperity, and empowers its people.
The Kwanlin Dün First Nation has been focused on building internal capacity to manage the challenges and opportunities created through the Final and Self-Government Agreements. Along with the same rights and responsibilities as other Yukon First Nations, Kwanlin Dün First Nation secured special provisions such as major land holdings within the City of Whitehorse and support for completing the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre. Implementing these Agreements is for the good of all citizens and has created a new beginning for Kwanlin Dün First Nation.
Members of Council, including the Chief, are the elected leaders of Kwanlin Dün First Nation. Council draws support from the Elders Council, Youth Council and Judicial Council. Services such as Health, Housing, and Heritage, Lands and Resources are provided to citizens by their government. Support services for self-government are provided through the departments of Human Resources, Finance, Administration, and the Executive Council Office.