My name is Emile and, I’m really grateful and honoured to have a chance to speak today and be a part of this walk. I think it’s a really important part, or an important step.
I’d like to welcome you to the Commissioner’s Residence, this large yellow building to your, left. It was the home of the head of the territorial government, the Commissioner, who was tasked with enforcing Canada’s colonial control through the regulation of land use.
The decisions these men made had deep and long-lasting effects on the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in people which continue to the present.
This process began with the deployment of the Northwest Mounted Police to the region commanded by Inspector Constantine in 1895. The Canadian government was concerned that American miners were infringing on Canadian sovereignty and not paying royalties on the gold they extracted from the land. The Canadian government upheld a view of the land which saw it as a commodity to be exploited for profit rather than a resource to be cherished, cherished and cared for. When Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in was push out of Trocheck by the influx of minors in 1896, they appealed to the representative of the government Constantine for assistance.
Constantine was the sole representative of the federal government in the Yukon Territory, or the Northwest Territories at this point. And although he lived only 400 metres from the displaced community on the south shore, the north shore of the Klondike River, he refused to make the 10-minute walk to speak with them. Constantine was under orders from the Canadian government to ensure that Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in would not be recognized in any way which would lead them to believe that the government would do anything for them as Indians. That’s a quote from Constantine.
The Department of Indian Affairs refused to acknowledge its authority in the region by declaring the area unsurrendered territory. By doing this the government was able to play a double game and reap the monetary benefits of the land while ignoring their legal responsibility to treaty with the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in. This unsurrendered territory remained under Canadian legal control. The government allowed to leasing of land to destructive industries in order to collect royalties and taxes for the public purse. None of this was shared with the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in.
Another aspect of this legal control of land was the imposition of borders. The enforcement of the Canadian-US border following the Gold Rush split the Han people between the legal impositions of two colonial states. A 1,000 km vertical line was drawn between the Yukon and Alaska, cutting through communities, families and the land they moved across. All of this was done with little or no consultation with the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in.
The government of Canada never bothered to amend the legal mess regarding land and land use. And it wasn’t until 1973 that the Yukon’s First Nations presented their comprehensive land claims to the Trudeau government and these questions began to be addressed. Negotiations ended in 1993 with a signing of the Umbrella Final Agreement and five years later Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in achieved self-governance.
Although the final agreements have allowed Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in to take control of their community and much of the traditional territory, there remain deep divisions between the First Nation governments and the Territorial and federal authorities. This is clearly shown in the Peel court case which is currently under consideration by the Canadian Supreme Court. How land is understood and what responsibilities we have to it remains a point of conflict between the various levels of government in Canada.
So, mahsi cho, thanks.