Proposed changes to the territory’s Land Titles Act will allow First Nations to register settlement land without losing aboriginal title.
The move, the first of its kind in Canada, should help unlock the economic potential in their land, according to the Kwanlin Dun First Nation.
A bill to modernize the territory’s legislation was tabled this week in the Yukon legislature.
If it’s passed, First Nations could register all or some of their settlement land with the Yukon’s land titles office – something many First Nations have been calling for for years.
Under the current regime, First Nations that wanted to register land could only do it if they gave up any aboriginal rights and title first to render it fee simple, like all other privately-owned land.
Yukon’s First Nations don’t want to give up rights they agreed to through land claim negotiations just to register.
What sounds like mundane paper-pushing is much more than that, said Dave Sembsmoen, Kwanlin Dun First Nation’s director of lands and resources. “This is an important step for us towards developing our economic potential,” he said.
Without registered land, development can be difficult. That’s because it’s hard to get a mortgage, even after you have a residential or commercial lease agreement with the First Nation, if a bank can’t find you in an established registry, said KDFN lawyer Rod Snow.
“A lot of this has to do with creating confidence, not for the First Nation, but for other people who might be dealing with those lands,” he said.
Banks want somewhere to go and confirm, for example, that a lease exists and that land doesn’t have any court orders against it, he said.
People buying homes want similar reassurances about the state of the land when it comes to spending their money.
“If there’s no way for them to confirm that and be confident in the decision that they’re making, then you’re not going to realize value in the same way,” Snow said.
Without documentation, even applying for something like a home improvement loan can be difficult, Snow said.
The Yukon government is still working on the new regulations to accompany the act. Those will provide details on the process for registration of First Nation settlement land and are expected to be completed next year.
Any self-governing First Nation could be covered under the new act, said Lesley McCullough, the Department of Justice’s assistant deputy minister of courts and regulatory services.
All they have to do is add a clause to their self-government agreement stating that while settlement land is registered in the land titles office, the rules and procedures of the registry system apply.
Kwanlin Dun has already passed a resolution to consent to the amendment once everything is in place.
The new act has other changes beyond First Nations land.
The updated rules allow for land documents to be managed electronically.
Plans to eventually transition to an electronic, as opposed to paper, system are in the works, McCullough said.
The idea is to create an online database where people could search records instead of having to come into the land titles office.
“We’re making that information, which is public information, more readily available,” she said.
There’s also the potential to allow for some documents to be filed electronically, but that is much further down the road, she said.
For now the focus is on the online database.
The government plans to put out a request for proposals next year to see what kind of systems already exist, she said. After that they’ll have a better idea of how long it could take to get something up and running.
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