Indian Claims Commission

Indian Claims Commission

June 01, 2006 11:00 ET

ICC Recommends Federal Government Accept "Indian Town" Claim

OTTAWA, ONTARIO--(CCNMatthews - June 1, 2006) - The Indian Claims Commission (ICC) issued a report today on a claim by the Taku River Tlingit First Nation. The panel found that Canada failed to act on behalf of the Taku River people in the reserve-creation process of the early 1900s, and that Canada owed the First Nation a fiduciary duty, which was breached. The panel recommends that the federal government accept the claim for negotiation.

This claim concerns the failure to set aside land as a reserve at the First Nation's village site known as Wenah, in Atlin, BC. The Taku people allege a breach of the fiduciary duty owed by the Crown through its Indian Agent to the First Nation in the pre-reserve creation period. The issues examined in the claim include the alienation of part of the village site lands to private landholders and the First Nation's surrender of part of another reserve in order to recover some of the land at their village site.

The Taku River Tlingit First Nation has a long history in northern BC. The oral history of the Elders suggests that, at one time, the Taku occupied the entire area around Atlin Lake. The influx of settlers during the 1898 gold rush pushed the Taku into a small area (sometimes referred to as "Indian Town") on the southern edge of the Atlin townsite. During the reserve-creation process in BC, the Taku had 9 reserves set aside for them, none of which included Indian Town.

The panel concluded that the Indian Agent failed to properly advise and prepare the Taku River Tlingit for the McKenna-McBride Commission, which was charged with settling the Indian lands question and recommended lands be set aside for reserves. The panel found that the Agent also failed to represent the First Nation's interests at the hearings of the Commission at Atlin and Victoria. As a result of this failure, the village site that the Taku occupied in Atlin was not set aside.

The initial breach of fiduciary duty in not setting aside the Wenah village site was continued by the government's not seeking the remedies available to prevent the alienation of Wenah lands to private landholders. According to the panel, there was a further failure on Canada's part to advise the Taku people when they surrendered part of the McDonald Lake Indian Reserve, in the 1950s and 1960s, in order to recover some of Wenah Village. The panel concluded that the basis of this surrender was the Crown's original breach of its basic fiduciary duties, even if the surrender itself was valid.

The Chair of the panel, Jane Dickson-Gilmore, remarked that "the federal Crown was ultimately responsible for the Taku River Tlingit, and no other party could act on its behalf in the reserve-creation process. In this regard, Canada failed to protect adequately the First Nation's interests. Further, we regret that having taken the position that this claim was a comprehensive, not a specific, claim Canada refused to challenge the Commission's exercise of its jurisdiction and declined to participate in the inquiry. As a result, the First Nation proceeded before the Commission with neither funding nor the benefit of Canada's arguments."

The ICC was established in 1991 to conduct inquiries, at the request of First Nations, into specific claims that have been rejected by the federal government or where the First Nation disputes the compensation criteria being considered in negotiations. In addition, the ICC provides mediation services at the request of the parties for claims in negotiation.

A copy of this release and of the inquiry report can be found on the Indian Claims Commission website at www.indianclaims.ca

BACKGROUNDER

- The lands of the Taku River Tlingit First Nation are located in upper northwest British Columbia, approximately 175 km south of Whitehorse, YK. The Taku River Tlingit's traditional territories encompass the areas around the Taku River, Nakina River and Atlin Lake, where the people lived in seasonal or permanent villages, including the Wenah village site on the shore of Atlin Lake.

- In 1898, gold was discovered in the area of Atlin Lake, drawing a large number of settlers to the area. The Taku people were displaced to a small area on the southern tip of Atlin townsite. Their presence was noted in 1899 by a provincial surveyor, who depicted an "Indian village" in the official plan of Atlin townsite. This village was sometimes referred to as Indian Town.

- A1904 provincial land survey failed to note the Indian village, and subdivided the townsite and surrounding area into lots and blocks. What was previously identified as an Indian village was subdivided into blocks 52, 53 and 54 of Atlin townsite.

- In 1908, the Indian Superintendent of BC reported that, according to the Chief Taku Jack, there were 86 Taku band members living in Atlin. This figure is repeated in a 1910 census. In his annual report for 1908-1909, the Indian Superintendent for BC noted for the Atlin Band: "Reserve required."

- The McKenna-McBride Commission was established in 1912 to resolve the Indian lands question, travelling the province and setting aside land for reserve purposes. The Atlin Board of Trade wrote to the Commission requesting that the Taku in Indian Town be removed to Five Mile Point, about five miles from Atlin townsite. The Indian Agent informed the Commission that, contrary to what the Board of Trade suggested, the Taku did not want to move. The Agent, however, failed to request that the lands within Atlin townsite occupied by the Taku be set aside for a reserve. The Commission allocated nine separate reserves to the Taku River Tlingit, but the lands comprising Indian Town were not included.

- The Taku people continued to live in Wenah village even though more settlers were obtaining Crown grants to the land. From 1923 to 1926, Crown grants were issued on lots 1 and 2 of block 53 and on block 54.

- By 1928, the Taku people were aware that their legal standing to Wenah village lands was uncertain, and made inquiries of the Indian Agent. The Agent advised the Indian Commissioner of their inquiries, adding that they had been living on the land since before the town was surveyed. The Commissioner responded that the Taku should either purchase the land or move to their reserve at Five Mile Point. When the Agent inquired about purchasing lots for reserve purposes, he was advised a provincial land ruling prevented the sale of town lots to the Taku.

- The question of the Taku people's right to their village in Atlin remained in abeyance from 1928 until 1945, when a band member was refused funding to repair her house, on the basis that it was not located on reserve land. The Indian Agent believed the Taku living in the townsite should be moved to their reserve at Five Mile Point. When Chief Henry Taku Jack refused to move in 1949, stating that a Taku permanent camp at Indian Town existed before the settlers arrived, the Agent investigated and confirmed that the village was a permanent camp from which parties hunted and fished. He concluded that the Taku people should have a reserve in Atlin.

- Following the report, the Department of Indian Affairs began negotiations with the province to acquire land and establish the area as a reserve. The province, however, refused to transfer the land because the Atlin Board of Trade opposed it. Over the next decade, the department attempted to acquire the lots in the Wenah village site.

- In 1958, the department proposed to acquire lots 1, 2 and 3 of block 52 in exchange for the surrender of a portion of McDonald Lake Indian Reserve. The Taku community apparently agreed to the exchange. However, the province believed that the portion to be surrendered didn't have the same value as the lands in Wenah village. They proposed an exchange for a different piece of the reserve. The First Nation agreed, and in 1963, an Order in Council transferred the surrendered land at McDonald Lake to the province and the lots in block 52 were transferred to the federal government for the purpose of creating a reserve in the Atlin townsite for the Taku. In 1985, block 52 and part of block 53 were set aside by order in council as Indian Reserve 10 for the Atlin Band of Indians.

- In 1997, the Taku River Tlingit First Nation submitted a claim to the Specific Claims Branch of the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, asserting that the federal Crown failed to carry out its legal obligations with respect to its lands at Wenah. The First Nation was informed by the Minister that the case did not fit within the criteria for specific claims.

- In 2002, the First Nation requested and the Indian Claims Commission accepted to conduct an inquiry into its rejected specific claim. Canada refused to participate in the inquiry.

Contact Information

  • Indian Claims Commission
    Manon Garrett
    Communications
    (613) 947-3939