Chief Doris Bill holds up a certificate of title for land at the Whitehorse Law Courts on Nov. 28. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Kwanlin Dün First Nation receives certificate of title for settlement land

Yukon Premier Sandy Silver said the development could be a first anywhere

In what Premier Sandy Silver described as what could be a first in the world, Kwanlin Dün First Nation (KDFN) has registered a piece of its Settlement A lands with the Yukon’s land titles office, green-lighting its ability to bring residential and commercial properties to market.

“Today has been a long time coming, and it is a significant step in what has been a long, complex process,” Chief Doris Bill said on Nov. 28, when it was announced that KDFN received the first certificate of title for land where there are surface and subsurface rights.

“Most importantly,” Bill continued, “it ensures Kwanlin Dün First Nation retains ownership of its settlement land forever, as envisioned during the land claims process.”

The certificate, issued on Sept. 28, is for a lot in the Marwell area, said to be the “beginnings of a business park.”

Two key changes had to happen in order for KDFN to make it where it is now.

Firstly, amendments were made to its self-government agreement in 2015, effective 2017, to ensure the territorial Land Titles Act applies to parcels of settlement land registered in the Yukon Land Titles Office, even if KDFN were to have its own legislation dealing with the same subject matter under the act.

Dovetailed with that were changes the Yukon government made to the Land Titles Act, which allowed for First Nations to register settlement lands without relinquishing Aboriginal title. This happened during the summer of 2016.

Leases can last upwards of 125 years. KDFN has the option of deregistering the land when it expires.

“Since then, we’ve proceeded very carefully,” Bill said. “Over the past few years, we’ve been meeting with banks to educate them about our agreements and discuss possibilities. We are please with the outcomes of those discussions.”

KDFN is the largest private landowner in Whitehorse, with more than 2,385 hectares (roughly six per cent) of settlement land within the city’s limits.

“I’m proud to say we have unlocked some of the economic potential of our agreements. Self-government is about self-determination and financial self-sufficiency,” Bill said.

“Settlement land is a key to KDFN’s long-term economic prosperity. It is a renewable resource source.”

Yukoners will eventually have more selection in terms of where to build, which could help “relieve pressure in the current housing market,” Bill said.

That KDFN can now lease and register parcels of its settlement lands at the land title office is a “historic step in the reconciliation process,” said Silver, who was at the announcement.

“This is not a trivial administrative step, rather it is a process that ensures First Nations can develop their settlement lands and enhance their ability to manage their lands in a way that is to the greatest benefit to their citizens,” he said, noting the development is a first in Canada.

“Once again, Yukon is leading the way. Dare I say this might be the first ever, anywhere.”

Silver spoke about the tight housing market and the need for diverse methods to ease it up, and that First Nations, like KDFN, must be afforded the opportunities to take advantage of them.

Rod Snow, a former lawyer who was the legal lead on the file for KDFN, shared a few words.

“All I will say is there were those who said it couldn’t be done, and with your perseverance, patience,” he said, looking to Bill, “because it took longer than anybody thought it would take, we got to this historic step. I think it’s a model that will work.”

Contact Julien Gignac at julien.gignac@yukon-news.com

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