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Re-establishing Self-Government

For the week of Monday March 28, 2011

On April 1, 2002, the Ta’an Kwäch’än Council Self-Government Agreement with the governments of Canada and the Yukon took effect. While the Ta’an Kwäch’än (“People of Lake Laberge”) have governed themselves for generations, the road to modern governance within Canada began a century earlier, under the leadership of Chief Jim Boss (Kashxóot or Kishwoot).

Chief Jim Boss
© Government of the Ta’an Kwäch’än Council, 2008
The Ta’an Kwäch’än’s territory in the Yukon was greatly impacted when gold was discovered in the Klondike in 1896, as tens of thousands of gold seekers travelled through it while on their way to Dawson City. These newcomers did not understand that what appeared to be vast empty wilderness was, in fact, local First Nation’s hunting and harvesting territory. They began to deplete the area’s resources, causing hardship for the Ta’an Kwäch’än and other First Nations people along the Yukon River corridor.

Chief Jim Boss realized he needed to secure land for his people in order to protect their livelihood. On January 13, 1900, Boss made the first formal land claim in the Yukon and petitioned the Yukon Commissioner for a reserve of approximately 971 hectares. They instead gave him 130 hectares. In 1902, Boss commissioned lawyer T.W Jackson to write to the Superintendent of Indian Affairs, asking him to protect the Ta’an Kwäch’än’s hunting rights. This letter contained his famous dictum, “Tell the King very hard we want something for our Indians, because they take our land and game.” This request was not acted upon. 

Signing of the Ta’an Kwäch’an Self-Government Agreement, January 13, 2002
© Government of the Ta’an Kwäch’än Council, 2008
 

The influx of new settlers threatened the Ta’an Kwäch’än way of life, but it also introduced new opportunities. Boss industriously adapted to the new economy by establishing roadhouses for trading goods with gold prospectors. The Ta’an Kwäch’än had historically been skilled traders with their coastal Tlinget neighbours. Boss used this knowledge to make these roadhouses a financial success. Through Boss’s efforts the Ta’an Kwäch’än became prosperous, but the more important issues of land claims and preserving their traditional livelihoods would take decades to resolve.

Modern negotiations for self government began in 1973, when the Yukon First Nations stated their grievances and proposed solutions to the federal government. On January 13, 2002, the Ta’an Kwäch’än Council held a signing ceremony for its Self-Government Agreement, one hundred years after Jim Boss’s first land-claim request. In April the Ta’an Kwäch’än became the Yukon’s eighth self-governing First Nation.

For providing guidance, vision and inspiration to the Yukon First Nations during the difficult times and massive changes of the early 1900s, Chief Jim Boss (Kashxóot) was designated a national historic person in 2001.

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