50th Anniversary Milestone for Self-Governance
This week on the blog, we are looking at the paths forward with regard to Indigenous law revitalization, and the recognition of the inherent self-determination held by Indigenous nations. To begin this conversation, we will start by looking back 50 years to when the first process for land claim agreements began in the North.
In 1973, a delegation of Yukon Chiefs presented a document called Together Today for Our Children Tomorrow to Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau in Ottawa. This document has been recognized by many to be the document that kickstarted the land claims process in the North, although some say that the claims were brought forward as early as 1901. Nonetheless, 1973 seems to be the year that the Canadian government decided to listen and move discussions forward with the First Nations in the Yukon to come to an agreement.
1973 Delegation of Yukon Chiefs
Photo Credit: https://www.cbc.ca/newsinteractives/features/the-chiefs-go-to-ottawa
The journey from the time this initial document was presented to the time that the Umbrella Final Agreement was signed was not an expeditious one. The process took about 20 years. Contained within this Umbrella Final Agreement (UFA) was a model agreement for Indian self-government, which ultimately led to the enactment of self-government agreements for four First Nations (the First Nation of Na-Cho Nyäk Dun, Champagne & Aishihik First Nations, Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation, and Teslin Tlingit Council) in 1992, and more have since followed.
Fifty years after the initial discussions, the agreements stemming from the Umbrella Final Agreement have “provided Indigenous ownership of 600,000 square kilometers of land, capital transfers of about $3.2 billion, participation in land and resource management decisions, self-government rights, political recognition, and of court protection of traditional ways of life.”
One Na-Cho Nyäk Dun citizen stated that they “see a shift in really making our acts, legislation, programs much more aligned with our values and culture, realizing that’s what self-determination means. But I think there was a huge learning curve in figuring out really how to do that and to make it work.”
Together Today for Our Children Tomorrow Document
Photo Credit: https://cyfn.ca/agreements/together-today-for-our-children-tomorrow/
Although the UFA itself is not a binding document, the self-government agreements stemming from it are constitutional in nature and legally binding to the parties. Despite this, the significance of the UFA itself was only recognized in a Supreme Court of Canada case in 2017. Several First Nations brought a case against the Yukon for failing to fulfill its consultation obligations. The Supreme Court stated, “[t]he UFA is a model for reconciliation.” And further, that the “agreements falling under the UFA are intended to foster a positive and mutually respectful long-term relationship between the signatories.” The Court held that the Yukon failed to uphold its obligations and found in favour of the First Nations.
The land claims agreements in the North, although not seamless, and not without some hiccups along the way, can serve as an important template for other Indigenous nations to push for the recognition of their inherent right to govern themselves. Five decades later, on February 12, 2023, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, son of Pierre Trudeau, met with leaders of Yukon First Nations, many of whom are direct descendants of the delegation in 1973, to celebrate how far they have come since the initial negotiations in 1973. It was a full-circle moment for many in attendance.
Until next time,
Team Reconcili-ACTION YEG
 “History of Land Claims” (accessed 24 February 2023), online: Council of Yukon First Nations <cyfn.ca/history/history-of-land-claims/>.  Ibid.  Ibid.  Ibid.  Ashley Joannou, “Yukon celebrates 50th anniversary of watershed self-governance meeting” (13 February 2023), online: Rocky Mountain Outlook <www.rmoutlook.com/north-news/yukon-celebrates-50th-anniversary-of-watershed-self-governance-meeting-6533741>.  Virginie Ann, “People in Mayo, Yukon, reflect on land claims milestone”, CBC News (16 February 2023), online <www.cbc.ca/news/canada/north/yukon-mayo-50th-anniversary-1.6744161>.  Jocelyn Jo-Strack & Kirk Cameron, “Self-Governing First Nations in Yukon” (last modified 18 March 2021), online: The Canadian Encyclopedia <www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/self-governing-first-nations-in-yukon#:~:text=The%20Yukon's%2011%20self%2Dgoverning,management%2C%20justice%2C%20or%20education.>.  First Nation of Nacho Nyak Dun v Yukon, 2017 SCC 58 at para 10.  Ibid.  Supra note 8 at para 64.  Supra note 5.