WHITEHORSE, Yukon Territory - Hundreds gathered here Sunday for the official signing of the land claim and self-government agreements for the 410 members of the Taan Kwachan Council.
The Taan became the eighth of 14 Yukon first nations to reach a final agreement. Under provisions of the settlement, Taan will receive ownership of 303 square miles. A little less than half will be land surface and subsurface ownership and the rest will be land surface ownership only.
The first nation also has negotiated ownership to numerous site-specific parcels of land such as traditional fishing and hunting camps.
"This day of celebration has been a long time in the making. It has taken a lot of hard work to get to this historic moment for the people of Taan Kwachan," Taan elder Frances Woolsey told the audience.
"From the days when the Gold Rush brought massive and irreversible change to the land, the people of Taan have struggled to find a balance between the old ways and the new, to welcome newcomers and new ideas, while holding on to our cherished traditions, our languages, land and our beliefs. Today we can be proud of what we achieved as a people," she said.
The first nation will receive $26.95 million (Canadian) in compensation payments over the next 15 years minus the $10.07 million it borrowed from Canada to negotiate its final agreements.
In addition, the Taan Kwachan Council will receive a one-time payment of $3.5 million as the result of the government of Canada's decision to pay interest on the compensation money back to 1997.
A $4.9 million economic development fund also will be established by Canada for the first nation as part of the settlement. The Taan also have the ability to negotiate funding agreements to deliver specific programs and services to their membership.
Federal Indian Affairs Minister Bob Nault said it was a tough, often lonely struggle for the group.
"They fought to regain control of their destiny as a first nation. Their reasonable request for self-determination met at times with unreasonable resistance. But they knew that the future of the people must belong to them," he said.