Kwanlin Dun asking Vuntut to step aside on waterfront lands

The Kwanlin Dun plans to pursue ownership of two disputed government-owned lots on the Whitehorse waterfront.

The Kwanlin Dun plans to pursue ownership of two disputed government-owned lots on the Whitehorse waterfront.

The announcement came hours after the Ta’an Kwach’an successfully secured an injunction delaying public sale of the lots.

It asked for the injunction on the grounds that, by putting the lots up for public tender, Premier Dennis Fentie had violated earlier land agreements with both the Ta’an Kwach’an and the Kwanlin Dun.

In a series of letters sent between 2005 and 2007, Fentie suggested to both First Nations that he was open to “discussing the various options available for these two properties, including (their) possible sale.”

However, before any definitive meeting could take place, the government opened the lots to a public bidding process.

Old Crow’s Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation submitted the highest bid, beating the Ta’an Kwach’an’s offer by more than $500,000.

On Monday afternoon, a legal injunction was granted suspending the bidding process until a hearing on the merits of Ta’an Kwach’an rights to the land could be held.

But the Kwanlin Dun says it has a better case. And it is asking the Vuntut Gwitchin to step aside.

It wants the Vuntut Gwitchin to put its bid on hold to allow a clean, out-of-court settlement with the government.

“We don’t want to be spending all our time in court, that’s why we’re saying, ‘Vuntut, withdraw your bid for the time being. Take it out of the courts,’” said Mike Smith, chief of the Kwanlin Dun.

“And then we’ll see whether or not we can proceed with a deal with the government.”

 “We think the Vuntut should respect the government-to-government commitments that were made. If the government had made a commitment to them, they would want us to respect that as well.”

If the Vuntut Gwitchin’s bid is not withdrawn, the Kwanlin Dun said it may tie things up in court for “two to five years.”

“The delay that we can impose by our court case is substantial,” said Smith.

So far, the Vuntut Gwitchin have “not answered our phone calls,” said Smith.

“It’s not in our interest to resolve issues in court, and it’s not in our interest to have a fight with the Vuntut.”

The Kwanlin Dun may still pursue acquisition of the land jointly with the Ta’an, but Smith said there were “advantages” to the Kwanlin Dun going it alone.

 “For the most part, we have a stronger case than the Ta’an,” he said.

Most notably, the Kwanlin Dun has land situated directly adjacent to the disputed lots, which it is using as a site for its cultural centre.

Under its land claims and self-government agreement, the Kwanlin Dun has direct say on the use of lands adjacent to settlement lands.

The same provision does not exist for the Ta’an, said Smith.

“Whoever acquires that land will have to meet with Kwanlin Dun and ensure that the land use is compatible with Kwanlin Dun’s development of our cultural centre,” said Smith.

 “Kwanlin Dun does not want to see a casino right next to our cultural centre.”

The Kwanlin Dun also has more concrete contact with Fentie regarding an acquisition of the lots. In 2005, the Kwanlin Dun had a face-to-face meeting with Fentie in which they were promised a priority on the lands.

Conversely, the Ta’an’s only claim to the land comes from written correspondence with Fentie.

“I would like to sit down with Kwanlin Dun and talk about it, but I certainly understand their circumstances,” said Ruth Massie, chief of the Ta’an Kwach’an.

“Right now, we are jointly talking economic opportunities together,” she said.

Whatever happens, the Kwanlin Dun and the Ta’an Kwach’an do eventually intend to pursue a joint-development project on the lands, complementary to plans already laid for the adjacent Kwanlin Dun lands.

Conceptual plans for the existing Kwanlin Dun lands include a library, a cultural centre, a long house and a complete development of the shoreline, said Smith.

“We’re taking a very positive approach here; we just feel that government’s got to live up to its commitments,” he said.

“We don’t want to be in a position of crying foul all the time … we look like the bad guys who are stopping the development. We’re not anti-development, we want to be part of it,” he said.

The Vuntut Gwitchin Limited Partnership, which submitted the bid, could not be reached for comment.