The Ta’an Kwach’an First Nation is pursuing an injunction to force Premier Dennis Fentie to adhere to a 2005 agreement to meet regarding the purchase of waterfront land.
Two lots located on the riverfront near Second and Ogilvie had been offered by Fentie to the Ta’an following the completion of the Canada Winter Games.
Four weeks ago, the release of a notice of public tender made it clear that Fentie had no plans to honour the 2005 agreement.
The court injunction calls for a meeting between Fentie and Ta’an officials.
“All we’ve wanted to do is sit down and talk about this,” said Daryn Leas, legal council for the Ta’an.
“He knows what our expressed interest is, but he’s just ignoring it,” said Ta’an Kwach’an Chief Ruth Massie, speaking from Quebec City by cellphone.
In a letter dated April 26, 2005, Fentie wrote “the Yukon government is prepared to discuss … the possible sale of these lots, with the Kwanlin Dun First Nation and the Ta’an Kwach’an Council once the Canada Winter Games have been completed in 2007.”
Two years later, Fentie affirmed once the lands were transferred to territorial ownership from Whitehorse, he would “be in a position to meet to discuss the matter.”
The Ta’an responded to both letters.
Receipt of the responses was acknowledged by Fentie’s office.
No meeting happened.
And on June 20, Ta’an Kwach’an was told the lands were coming up for public tender.
“(I) look forward to First Nation government participation in the bidding process … I wish you every success,” wrote Fentie.
Contrary to Fentie’s earlier agreements, no meeting or discussion of purchase with the Ta’an had preceded the notice of public tender.
The First Nation’s repeated attempts to contact Fentie following the announcement failed; his office ignored letters on both July 4 and July 18.
The premier’s office declined to comment for this story, citing the fact the issue was “before the courts.”
The injunction stands on much more than just a broken promise.
In First Nations relations, the word of the premier is infused with the honour of the Crown.
“The relationship between First Nations is defined by a duty for the territorial government to act in the honour of the Crown. And that’s a legal standard they have to meet,” said Leas.
Kwanlin Dun, which has also been offered purchase priority for the land, has closely supported the Ta’an’s court actions.
Kwanlin Dun currently owns land adjacent to the disputed lots.
“Kwanlin Dun is very interested because we want someone that is compatible,” said Kwanlin Dun Chief Mike Smith.
While no reasons can been identified for Fentie’s quick turnaround on the land issue, Smith speculated outside the courtroom last Wednesday that someone “got the ear of the premier.”
The Ta’an hopes that the issue will be settled out of court.
“The best case scenario is that Fentie comes to his senses,” said Leas.