Kwanlin Dün First Nation now has its own Lands Act, legislation years in the making that leaders say will help citizens fully benefit from what settlement lands have to offer and is an important step towards self-determination.
The act was passed earlier this year and came into effect Oct. 15 but was marked with an announcement and celebration at the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre Oct. 20. It grants KDFN the authority to manage, protect and enforce laws on its settlement lands.
Under the act, called Nan kay sháwthän Däk’anúta ch’e (We all look after our land) in Southern Tutchone, KDFN will be able to allot citizens land to build their own houses on, for example, or to use for traditional activities. The First Nation will also be able to enforce laws around things like land access and littering.
Chief Doris Bill, as well as elder councillor Judy Gingell and former chief Rick O’Brien, said the act and the freedom and power it will offer KDFN citizens has been a long time coming.
“What it means for citizens is that they will now be able to get out onto the land,” Bill said, describing the land citizens will be able to receive as “their own little slice of heaven.”
“It’s something that will be theirs, it’s something that they can pass down from generation to generation, it can stay in the family, and I think that means a great deal to people, you know? … I think that being able to get something that is your own is meaningful, it’s really meaningful.”
O’Brien said that for KDFN citizens, the land used to be a place they lived on and was always “a place to go” before being “rounded up” and “institutionalized” by Canada.
He spoke about his desire to build a house of his own on the land, but had held off as he didn’t want to be “squatting.”
“For me personally, I think this is kind of like a freedom door, you go through that door to get, like Chief Bill said, a slice of heaven,” he said of the act.
“But it’s also a place you can go and your grandkids can go, and my great grandkids can eventually go if I build a place back on the land which I see a lot of people that have lost that already due to different types of circumstances … But it’s like de-institutionalizing our people, that’s how I see it.”
Gingell also echoed the importance of the land, and how everyone had different traditional places to go for things like fishing, moose hunting or gathering medicines.
“Each of us had a very traditional spot where we always go back and fulfil what it is we need, so to have this opportunity to really sit down and map it out, where those traditional areas are and have it registered within our land registry, to be given this opportunity back again, to be able to go out there and know it’s really protected and I can hand this down to a future generation within our family … that’s what this is all about and that’s what it really means to us,” she explained.
The First Nation’s lands and resources department is currently in the process of going through more than 350 historical submissions for settlement land. It will complete those before accepting new applications, Bill said, a process that that’s expected to take a year.
Some of the historical submissions date back to 1982; they will be processed in chronological order, although priority may be given to elders.
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