North

Ross River Dena Council shocked, angry at land claim proposal

First Nation members say they're insulted by a proposal put forth on their behalf by the Kaska Dena Council: 'our land is not for sale.'

The Kaska Dena Council - asking for $1.5B from Ottawa - doesn't speak for us, First Nation says

'There was no consultation ... and it creates a bit of difficulty,' said Ross River Dena Council chief Jack Caesar, pictured at left with councillors Derrick Redies, Verna Nukon and Jenny Caesar. (Nancy Thomson/CBC)

Members of the Ross River Dena Council are upset by a land claim proposal submitted recently on their behalf by the Kaska Dena Council (KDC).

The proposal asks for $1.5 billion from the federal government. That would include $500 million for the Ross River Dena Council, whose traditional territory encompasses 13 per cent of Yukon's landmass.

The Kaska Dena Council sent a letter to the federal government in April, setting terms for a land claim that would be the biggest ever in Canada. (Philippe Morin)

The KDC's request was news to the Kaska in Ross River, who say they're "insulted" by a land claims proposal put forth on their behalf by the KDC. The KDC is not a First Nation, but rather a registered society, which represents three First Nations in British Columbia and two in Yukon. Its website lists a staff of 14 people.

The two Yukon Kaska First Nations — Ross River and the Liard First Nation — have not signed a final land claim and self-government agreement. And according to members of the Ross River Dena Council, they're not likely to do so anytime soon.

Ross River elder Robert Etzel, 84, says the KDC has no right to represent Ross River.

"I don't think other nations should negotiate on our behalf — it's none of [Kaska] Dena Council's business," he said. 

'I don't think other nations should negotiate on our behalf,' said Ross River elder Robert Etzel. (Nancy Thomson/CBC)

15-year-old Jeremiah Shorty of Ross River has just finished grade 10, and plans on becoming a conservation officer expressly to care for the land. He says exchanging the land for money is not on the table.

"I don't think I would sell this land. Because look at it — it's beautiful," Shorty said.

Robin Wilk is much more emphatic.

"Our land is not for sale, despite people saying '$500 million' — that's peanuts. I don't care what the Kaska [Dena] Council is trying to say. The Ross River Dena Council's land will never be sold — ever!" 

Wilk suggests that Ross River should divorce itself from the KDC, jokingly suggesting they build a wall.

'A bit of difficulty' 

Roberta Dick of Ross River wants to know how the figure of $500 million came about. She also wants to know why negotiators are taking a stance without first seeking permission from the people.

"It's like leadership or the negotiators are doing things behind closed doors and not informing the members. They're supposed to take our comments, and ratify by us, as members." 

The Ross River Dena Council has not signed a final land claim and self-government agreement, and members say they're not likely to anytime soon. (Nancy Thomson/CBC)

Ross River Chief Jack Caesar says the KDC did not bother to consult his First Nation before submitting the proposal to Canada.

"There was no consultation... and it creates a bit of difficulty," Caesar said.

He says the KDC has no authority to speak for Ross River, and that he wants to speak with the First Nation's legal counsel before elaborating. 

Derrick Redies, a councillor with the Ross River Dena Council, says the elected chief and council alone have the final say on the First Nations' direction.

"My grandparents always told me, 'we are much better living off the land like we were always meant to be.' And that's the way I'd like to see our children grow up, as well," Redies said.

He also has some advice for federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett.

"Be wary when you see a proposal come from a society, rather than a political body," he said.

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.