Housing fight flattens faith in First Nation governance

Joe Jack no longer has faith in the self-government system he helped create. As former chief of the Kwanlin Dun First Nation, Jack would promote the Yukon model to every aboriginal person and leader he met during trips across Canada.

Joe Jack no longer has faith in the self-government system he helped create.

As former chief of the Kwanlin Dun First Nation, Jack would promote the Yukon model to every aboriginal person and leader he met during trips across Canada.

Now, after years working Outside, Jack has returned to the territory and he wouldn’t suggest the Yukon model of self-governance to anyone, he said.

“I have spent my whole career fighting for aboriginal rights,” he said. “I would be hesitant to suggest any of this now.”

Two weeks ago, two RCMP officers visited Jack at the cabin he shares with his five-year-old daughter and nine-year-old son.

The officers had been asked to deliver a message from the Ta’an Kwach’an Council – if he did not abandon the home, the First Nation threatened to take away his children, said Jack.

According to the Ta’an Kwach’an Council, the house is condemned.

Known as the Maloney House, the place is located at Takhini Crossing, approximately 25 kilometres west of Whitehorse on the Alaska Highway.

The house is part of a heritage site, on Ta’an land.

The Old Takhini Crossing village, as it is known, is one of the oldest-known First Nation settlements in the Yukon, said Jack.

It is said to be the first settlement to see a white person and the original Dawson Trail crosses it.

“We’re walking on history,” Jack said, describing the way villages would communicate the coming of the Chilkats and gather around this settlement to trade with them.

Jack’s oldest memory is about being on that land with his adopted grandmother Susy Hutchi Jim, a well-known medicine woman.

He was eight years old and remembers running around cabins on the site.

“That is our history,” said Jack.

Jack and his family have site-specific title to the land.

Jack’s sister, Edythe Maloney, and her husband built their house on the site in the early 1980s.

When the Ta’an Kwa’chan Council split from the Kwanlin Dun First Nation, Maloney helped establish TKC, while Jack did the same for KDFN.

The problem with the home began a decade ago.

The Ta’an Kwach’an Council built a basement under the house, despite reports it was unsafe because of unstable soil and melting permafrost.

The basement was built against Maloney’s wishes, said Jack. She only wanted a drooping corner of the house to be lifted up.

The First Nation says Maloney pressured them into building it.

But, the results of that construction are clear. Because of it, more permafrost melted, causing the building to shift.

The biggest concern is one of the walls in the basement has buckled drastically, threatening the stability of the entire house.

Already, windows have broken and the outside oil tank is leaning against the house because of it.

The house is unsafe, said First Nation officials.

But the house hasn’t moved in years and every day Jack checks the entire structure, he said, including slapdash supports the First Nation erected against a wall in the basement.

In 2007, the First Nation relocated Maloney and her husband John while their house was to be replaced.

They were housed at old Ta’an offices located at Lake Laberge.

But the house was never replaced.

Renovations were done to the offices at Lake Laberge to make them more comfortable.

When Jack returned to the territory, Maloney said he could live in the home.

“It was understood by the original occupant that no one was to reside in the condemned house once another residence was provided,” said written comments from Chief Brenda Sam and Deputy Chief Rick Martin.

The First Nation sent letters to Maloney once they discovered Jack and his children were living in the house, asking that they evacuate the premises immediately.

The April 7 letter stated their long-term goal was to have the house destroyed.

“Although we are requesting that you consent, we wish to make it perfectly clear that you have no option,” it read.

“That’s my history and that’s where I grew up,” said Jack. “We don’t want to just burn it down.

“All I want to do is be left alone.

“The purpose that we’re out there is for the kids to have this experience that they might not have for a long time. And because of my age I don’t know how many more times I will be able to give them this teaching, or experience.”

There is another reason why Jack decided to relocate to the house.

On March 11, Jack had his independent assessment hearing in Whitehorse. It is a process that residential school survivors can go through to report acts of severe violence that they suffered while at residential school.

At the Whitehorse Baptist Mission School, when he was only six years old, Jack was brutally sodomized by an older student.

In his hearing, he stated that he hoped to live on his family’s land, with his own children, to deal with facing this history and to continue healing.

Less than a month later, he received the eviction notice.

But having Jack and his children in that home is a liability for the First Nation. The only option is to evict them and destroy the home, said Sam and Martin’s written comments.

The First Nation has already incurred excessive costs related to the Maloney House, they said.

“The responsibility for the cost of repairing this house has been carried by the TKC in the past, and the risks to the inhabitants are too great for anyone with a conscience to ignore,” they added.

And budgeting for housing for all its citizens is now a serious priority for Ta’an.

It is the only self-governing First Nation in the Yukon that has not made housing available for their people.

And of its 428 citizens, many of them are in need of a place to live.

By next month, two duplexes, or four units, will become available.

“These are the first housing units built by TKC since we became self-governing,” said Sam and Martin’s written comments. “Allocation of these units to citizens will be done by an external selection committee.”

But building houses on settlement land is a gamble people should avoid, said Jack.

Ta’an has no land-use act or housing policy in place because of its inability to achieve quorum for so many years, he said.

“What guarantee do you have that there’s not going to be any interference in the investment you put on that land and property?” he said.

“I would not encourage people to build on settlement land because of the interference that’s out there.

“From what’s happening to me now, I would never build a house on band land and I would never encourage anyone to build a house on band land for the political interference that could turn into a lot of loss of time and money and your future.”

After the RCMP officers’ visit, Jack has been preparing to move.

“Basically, what the band is doing is making us homeless,” he said.

Pointing to the grave sites of his brother-in-law and father, he mentioned how he and his siblings all intended to rest here. Now, once his son finishes the school year, he is planning to move out of the territory completely.

In the meantime, Grey Mountain Housing Society has found them a place. They will move into it by next week, said Jack.

The former advocate of Yukon’s self-governance model looked at his daughter Kwansha, sitting across the table from him.

“It’s just a bad experience turning into a nightmare,” he said.

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at