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‘A real advantage for citizens’: 5 things to know about Kwanlin Dün’s new Lands Act

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The Kwanlin Dün First Nation (KDFN) is moving ahead on its new Lands Act.

The act took years to negotiate, and could be the biggest change for KDFN since the First Nation signed a self-government agreement 15 years ago.

KDFN Chief Doris Bill has said it is informed by Indigenous values.

“This act guides how we as a First Nation will continue to grow and protect and thrive on the lands of ancestors,” she said.

The act is called Nan kay sháwthän Däk’anúta ch’e, which means “we all look after our land” in Southern Tutchone.

It sets rules for the allocation and use of 1,042 square kilometres of KDFN settlement land in Yukon.

 

'A real advantage for citizens': 5 things to know about Kwanlin Dün's new Lands Act
The Kwanlin Dün First Nation’s Land Act, Nan kay sháwthän Däk’anúta ch’e, came into effect in October. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

 

The land is mainly outside of Whitehorse and is divided into 264 parcels. However it includes 84 parcels of land within the City of Whitehorse totalling about 24 square kilometres, which makes the First Nation the largest private land owner in the city.

Greg Thompson, KDFN director of lands and resources, spoke with CBC North about the act and how it will work.

Here are five interesting things to know.

1. KDFN is giving out land for free (in a sense)

The most appealing news for many KDFN citizens will be that land will be allocated for free.

In Whitehorse, residential lots usually sell for more than $100,000 and are in short supply. However, under the new lands act, residential lots owned by the First Nation will be allocated to KDFN citizens free of charge.

“I think it’s a real advantage for citizens and I am hoping they can take advantage of it and be successful with home ownership,” Thompson said.

The First Nation expects demand will exceed supply, and predicts having to hold a lottery for residential allocations.

The citizens who win residential allocations will have some obligations to meet. That could mean, for instance, needing to build something within three years if the lot is within Whitehorse city limits.

The citizens will also have to pay costs related to things such as road or sewer access, as demanded by local land use plans. The First Nation is pledging to help citizens pay those costs.

 

'A real advantage for citizens': 5 things to know about Kwanlin Dün's new Lands Act
Doris Bill, chief of the Kwanlin Dün First Nation, holds the new Lands Act at a signing ceremony Oct. 20. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

 

The same policy of free allocation will apply to KDFN citizens applying for land for traditional use. In that case the First Nation expects there will be enough parcels to meet all demand.

Citizens can apply for land when they turn 19.

The Lands Act will also allow citizens to own one parcel of land for traditional use and another for residential use.

KDFN citizens will be able to apply for such allocations, even if they live outside the territory.

2. Some land is for citizens only

The new act broadly divides land into allocated and lease-hold land, which means different rules.

Allocated land is only for KDFN citizens, while anyone will be able to lease KDFN’s commercial or residentially-zoned land through leasing agreements.

Allocated land cannot be used as a commercial venture. For instance, a KDFN member could not build a traditional cabin and then rent it out.

“They’re not meant to be set up as [an] Airbnb or other operations or long-term rentals for other people,” said Thompson. “They’re for the citizenship to practice their traditional rights and enjoy traditional opportunities on the land.”

Some land will not be developed at all, as the First Nation will set some parcels aside to “protect sensitive habitats and long-term interests.”

The general public retains the right to access settlement land for hiking and other recreational uses.

The First Nation also says there may be opportunities for non-Indigenous people or people from other First Nations to build cabins and camps.

A summary document from KDFN says “recreational land will be land used for cabins and camps. Leases will be available to KDFN Beneficiaries and Citizens first, before offered to the general public.”

3. KDFN will collect a share of federal taxes

As part of its Lands Act, KDFN’s development corporation, Chu Níikwän, is planning for commercial leasing in the Whitehorse areas of Sima, Kulan and Marwell.

The First Nation is also planning for a larger-scale residential development near Range Road in Whitehorse.

In all cases the First Nation will retain ownership of the land.

While selling settlement lands is prohibited by KDFN’s self-government agreement, long-term leases will be signed with terms that could exceed 100 years, and those parcels can be bought and sold on the open market.

The Lands Act allows the First Nation to collect taxes.

 

'A real advantage for citizens': 5 things to know about Kwanlin Dün's new Lands Act
The red line marks the perimeter of some of Kwanlin Dun First Nation’s settlement land in Whitehorse. (Submitted by Kwanlin Dun First Nation)

 

Thompson said this doesn’t mean people living on leased land will pay more on top of their city and federal taxes.

Instead, a portion of the residents’ income taxes will be redirected to the First Nation through a federal process. This is how the Lands Act will generate revenue for KDFN.

“If you are living on settlement land, you will notice no difference in how you pay taxes, in the amount of tax you pay, there’s no change at all,” Thompson said. “End of the day, some of that tax revenue is redirected to KDFN through a federal process.”

4. Land allocations do not mean exclusive hunting rights

Citizens who receive an allocation for traditional use will not have the exclusive right to hunt or fish in that area.

They will however have exclusive rights to a parcel “on the smaller side,” which Thompson says should average less than a hectare of land.

“We’re not allocating land for hunting. What we’re allocating is a place for a person to have a fish camp or a cabin, but the rest of the land would remain public land for Kwanlin Dün citizens to actively pursue their traditional pursuits there,” Thompson said.

Rules will not change when it comes to licensed hunters in Yukon.

The territory’s laws allow licensed hunters to cross some Category A and Category B Settlement Lands. The law also allows non-citizens to hunt on settlement lands if they have written permission from First Nations.

Thompson says the First Nation would have the right to curb access to ATVs on settlement land if they are considered destructive but said such action would need to be spurred by a complaint. He said there are no plans at this time to restrict ATV access across settlement land.

5. The next step for KDFN: reviewing hundreds of claims

Thompson says that KDFN planned to “get applications rolling” this week, as it begins implementing the act.

Firstly, the First Nation will have to review about 350 cases of historic use which could take two years.

Many families have already been using settlement land to live, hunt, fish, build camps and more.

“I would say most of the sites are already traditionally used by the Kwanlin Dün people and have been a long time,” Thompson said, adding that most sites are already accessible by road or trail.

Once the process is complete and people have their existing claims assessed, the First Nation will open applications to all its citizens.

As people build cabins and new homes, KDFN hopes this will translate to local jobs. Some properties built on leased land will qualify for mortgages, loans, insurance and everything else that comes with legal ownership.

'A real advantage for citizens': 5 things to know about Kwanlin Dün's new Lands Act

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