Atlin First Nation launches second lawsuit

The Taku River Tlingit First Nation is suing the federal government for failing to work towards a land claims settlement in its traditional territory.

The Taku River Tlingit First Nation is suing the federal government for failing to work towards a land claims settlement in its traditional territory.

The honour of the Crown is at stake if Canada fails to intervene and prevent further alienation of the First Nation from its lands at the hands of the Yukon government, according to the statement of claim.

“We just felt that they blindly sat by and watched the territorial government chew us to pieces without doing the proper deep consultation,” said John Ward, spokesperson for the Taku River Tlingit. “And we feel strongly they have an obligation towards our unsettled land.”

This latest lawsuit follows on the heels of another case launched by the Taku River Tlingit against the Yukon government for failing to consult adequately on a proposed campground on Atlin Lake and on mining exploration within Yukon portions of the First Nation’s territory.

The more recent statement of claim, filed February 24, details the history of federal policy on land claims agreements since the 1970s.

In 1973, then-Prime Minister Jean Chretien “announced that Canada was prepared to negotiate comprehensive land claim agreements with the authorized representatives of those aboriginal peoples who could establish to the Government of Canada’s satisfaction that their interests in land in certain parts of Canada … had not been dealt with by treaty or superseded by law,” according to the statement of claim.

That land claims policy was reaffirmed in 1981 and 1986, the document notes.

The Taku River Tlingit First Nation’s comprehensive land claim was formally accepted by the federal government for negotiation in 1983.

That claim encompasses territory in Northern B.C. as well as Yukon.

The lawsuit is only seeking the court’s intervention in Yukon portions of the traditional territory, according to the document.

The Taku River Tlingit was not consulted before control over lands and resources devolved to the Yukon government in 2003, the lawsuit says.

Since then, the government has been “alienating interests in lands and resources in the tract of land in question.”

The First Nation had asked the federal government to force the hand of the territorial government to begin a land claims negotiation in Yukon portions of its asserted land claim.

That process must begin before the government makes decisions that affect the land, such as recording mining claims or building a campground, the First Nation argues.

“The Atlin Lake campground decision exacerbates a series of land decisions undertaken unilaterally by YG in TRTFN traditional territory,” according to a release related to the earlier lawsuit. “YG has been recording mineral claims, granting land, creating parks, settling land claims and is now trying to create a campground in our unsurrendered traditional territory without meaningfully consulting or accommodating the TRTFN. These are substantial, cumulative alienations of our land that pre-empt the honourable settlement of the TRTFN’s transboundary claim in the Yukon.”

Canada has refused or failed to start negotiating with the First Nation over its claims to that land and has refused or failed to protect the Taku River Tlingit’s rights and interests to that land, according to the recent lawsuit.

This failure “is inconsistent with the honour of the Crown and constitutes a breach of Canada’s constitutional obligations to the TRTFN.”

As a result, the First Nation has asked the court to declare that Canada must participate in land claims negotiations, protect the Taku River Tlingit’s rights to its territory and pay the costs of legal action.

The Canadian government has not yet filed a statement of defence.

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at