$1.5B proposal not a land claim, says Kaska Dena Council chair

The Kaska Dena Council (KDC) says a recent proposal it submitted to the federal government is being mischaracterized as a land claim.

'The proposal does not surrender one square inch of Kaska land,' says George Miller

Some people in Ross River objected to the Kaska Dena Council's proposal to the federal government, saying their traditional territory is 'not for sale.' (Nancy Thomson/CBC)

The Kaska Dena Council (KDC) says a recent proposal it submitted to the federal government is being mischaracterized as a land claim.

Instead, the KDC says it's a simple request for $1.5 billion in compensation for "all the wrongs" done on Kaska traditional territory, such as resource extraction.  

The KDC, which represents Kaska First Nation communities in B.C. (Dease River, Daylu Dena Council, and the Kwadacha Nation), sent a letter to the federal ministers of Justice and Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada asking for $500 million payouts to both the Ross River Dena Council and the Liard First Nation. An additional $500 million would go the KDC. 

The Kaska Dena Council describes Kaska traditional territory as 240,000 square kilometres, amounting to 23 per cent of Yukon and ten per cent of B.C. (Kaska Dena Council)

But people in Ross River professed shock and anger over the proposal, saying they weren't consulted and that their territory is "not for sale."

KDC chair George Miller says they need not worry — he says the proposal is based entirely on the United Nations' Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, which the federal government has endorsed.  

Miller says the declaration "states that the past wrongs that have been done to the First Nation people could be addressed."

He also says the KDC's proposal is not for an exchange of land-for-cash, but rather a reassertion of Indigenous ownership. 

"The compensation part of it is based on all the wrongs that have been done to the Kaska people. The compensation is not for the surrender of Kaska lands... the proposal does not surrender one square inch of Kaska land," he said.

"If anything, it gives the Kaska total control over Kaska land, with governing powers. And we requested the government to withdraw the lands from [the Yukon government]." 

'Not one cent' from mining

Miller says the Faro mine is just one example of resource development on traditional Kaska territory that constituted a "wrong" to the Kaska people, and for which they should be compensated. 

"If you look at the Faro mine, if you look at all the oil and gas that has come out of traditional territories, and out of mines that have operated in Kaska territory, the Kaska people have not received one cent from that," he said.

Members of the Ross River Dena Council said they weren't consulted, but KDC chair George Miller says the chief and council knew about the proposal months ago. (Nancy Thomson/CBC)

While some members of the Ross River Dena Council and the Liard First Nation expressed consternation at the KDC's proposal, Miller points out that the chiefs and councils of both First Nations were aware of the proposal months ago. 

"The proposal was developed by Kaska Dena Council and submitted by Kaska Dena Council on behalf of Kaska Dena and Liard First Nation, Ross River Dena Council. Both chief and council were aware of the proposal, and I took it personally to [former Liard First Nation] Chief Daniel Morris at the time and also he agreed to it. From what I hear, my lawyer discussed this with [Ross River Dena Chief] Jack Caesar and he agreed to it.

"So on that basis, that's why we sent it."  

Miller adds though that right now, it's simply a proposal that must be ratified by the chiefs' signatures before it goes anywhere. He says he has asked for a leadership meeting on the issue.

"It still needs the approval of Ross River Dena Council and approval of Liard First Nation."

About the Author

Nancy Thomson

Raised in Ross River, Yukon, Nancy Thomson is a graduate of Ryerson University's journalism program. Her first job with CBC Yukon was in 1980, when she spun vinyl on Saturday afternoons. She rejoined CBC Yukon in 1993, and focuses on First Nations issues and politics. You can reach her at nancy.thomson@cbc.ca.