two key letters began land claim process 100 years ago

The man who laid the foundation for Yukon First Nation land claims is widely known as Jim Boss, but he also had another name. He was called Kishwoot which means, "pound the table with fist," perhaps foreshadowing his strong negotiating skills.

The man who laid the foundation for Yukon First Nation land claims is widely known as Jim Boss, but he also had another name.

He was called Kishwoot which means, “pound the table with fist,” perhaps foreshadowing his strong negotiating skills.

Boss was born in 1857, and had many jobs over his 79 years.

He traded goods between the Coastal and Inland First Nations.

During the Klondike Gold Rush he taught the North-West Mounted Police officers skills in survival and living in the Yukon’s cold climate.

He built and operated a roadhouse on Lake Laberge.

A government report from 1915 shows he operated one of the Yukon’s 15 fox farms.

And, perhaps most notably, for more than 40 years he was chief of the Southern Yukon First Nations tribes, which are now known as the Ta’an Kwach’an Council.

While chief of the Ta’an, Boss wrote two letters that would lay the foundation for Yukon First Nation land claims, and ensure that Boss would be remembered.

People from all over the world flooded in to the Yukon during the Klondike Gold Rush in the late 1800s. And Boss soon realized that this influx of people from Outside was significantly affecting the Yukon’s first peoples.

In 1900, he petitioned the Commissioner of the Yukon for a 647-hectare reserve for his people, but was granted only 129 hectares.

In 1902, he tried again. Through a lawyer, Boss wrote a letter to the Superintendent General of Indian Affairs seeking recognition and protection for his people’s lands and culture.

“Jim Boss, I may state is a very intelligent man and is fairly well off and I am told is very liberal with his own means in assisting his own Indians,” wrote the lawyer, F.W. Jackson.

“(Boss) says ‘tell the King very hard we want something for our Indians because they take our land and our game.’”

He requested compensation from the government because the first peoples lost their lands and their hunting grounds to white people.

Over the eight years since white miners, trappers and hunters began coming into the territory looking for riches, the number of Indians decreased from several thousand to less than 1,000.

With the letter, Boss also included a list which estimated the population of the various tribes, which were called: Lake Marsh, Tagish, Hoochi, Kluchoo, Iseag, Klukshoo, Gaysutchu, Tatsuchi, Kloosulchuk and Haseena, at 810.

“He says he does not think they will number more than 600 by spring and asks that something be done as quickly as possible,” said the letter.

“If the government desires to enter into treaty with them he will gather them together as quickly as possible.”

The government replied to Boss, telling him that the police would protect his people and land.

“In retrospect, the exchange of letters represents the first attempt at land claim negotiations in the Yukon and, during the early decades of the 20th century, Chief Boss remained one of the most influential and outspoken leaders of Yukon Indian people,” according to A Short History of the Ta’an Kwach’an.

Boss died in hospital after a period of illness on January 17, 1950.

The writer of Boss’ obituary, which was printed in a local newspaper three days later, seemed to leave out his greatest accomplishments. “He was held in the highest regard by both native and white population alike,” read the article. “Many of our readers will recall how resplendid (sic) he was when dressed in his full regalia.”

This column is provided by the MacBride Museum of Yukon History. Each week it will explore a different morsel of Yukon’s modern history. For more information, or to comment on anything in this column e-mail