Champagne & Aishihik First Nations (CAFN) have undergone radical change in the last 100 years. Not long ago, the Southern Tutchone people of this region lived as part of the land.
Today, they are working on the establishment of their own government and CAFN is becoming the steward of its homeland as it builds a sustainable economy.
Official Tribal Name: Champagne & Aishihik First Nations
Treaty Number: 507
Address: PO BOX 5309, HAINES JUNCTION, YT, Y0B 1L0
Phone: 867-634-4200, 867-668-3627
Region: Yukon River Basin
Province: Southwest Yukon, Northwest British Columbia
Alternate names / spellings:
Strong ties with neighbouring Southern Tutchone First Nations, Kluane First Nation to the northwest and Ta’an First Nation to the east, have long been strengthened by intermarriage and visiting. CAFN has also maintained strong trading relationships with its neighbours to the south, the Tlingits of the Pacific Coast.
Land Claim Agreements:
The Champagne & Aishihik First Nations signed Final and Self-Government Agreements with Yukon and Canada on May 29, 1993. The effective date of these agreements was February 14, 1995.
In 1993, after more than 20 years of negotiations, CAFN’s rights to the Yukon portion of its traditional lands and resources were finally confirmed with the signing of the Champagne & Aishihik First Nations Final Agreement between CAFN, the Government of Canada and the Government of Yukon.
Land claim negotiations concerning the portion of CAFN territory within BC are as yet incomplete, but in the interim, an innovative and precedent setting agreement between the BC government and CAFN has been reached which provides for joint management authority of the newly created Tatshenshini-Alsek Park.
The road to the Yukon Land Claim Agreement was a long and difficult one. Many Champagne and Aishihik members, beginning with the late Elijah Smith, provided creative leadership in initiating and negotiating an Umbrella Yukon Land Claim Agreement.
Elijah organized the Yukon Native Brotherhood and, in 1973, he presented Together Today for our Children Tomorrow, a position paper on the Yukon comprehensive claim, to then Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau.
Champagne & Aishihik First Nations was one of the first four Yukon First Nations to conclude their final agreements. CAFN’s Dave Joe was the Chief Negotiator for the Council for Yukon Indians (now the Council of Yukon First Nations) was instrumental in completing the Yukon Umbrella Final Agreement.
The late Harry Allen and Dorothy Wabisca, along with Chief Paul Birckel, were also key players in the successful negotiation of these groundbreaking agreements.
The Champagne & Aishihik First Nations Land Claim Agreement provides for the ownership of some 2,427 square kilometers of land.
It also continues to provide guaranteed access to fish and wildlife resources. Most importantly, the agreement establishes the Champagne & Aishihik First Nations government as co-managers of all natural and cultural resources in its traditional territory.
CAFN is a partner of the Kluane National Park Management Board, the Alsek Renewable Resources Council and has representation on numerous other regional and territorial boards that make recommendations on heritage, educational, environmental and economic issues.
In addition, the self-government agreement provides Champagne & Aishihik First Nations with the power to enact laws on a wide range of matters affecting the rights of its citizens.
On September 17, 1998, Champagne and Aishihik First Nations made history by passing three acts: the Income Tax Act, Fish and Wildlife Act, and Traditional Pursuits Act. These acts became effective on January 1, 1999.
The Traditional Territory of the Champagne & Aishihik First Nations is situated in southwestern Yukon, centered on the incorporated village of Haines Junction.
It also includes the settlements of Aishihik, Champagne, Canyon Creek and Klukshu.
In very generalized terms, this area of historic use and occupation extends from the St. Elias Mountains east to near Whitehorse, and from the BC border to north of Aishihik Lake.
The Champagne & Aishihik First Nations traditional territory covers 41,000 square kilometers, 29,000 of which are located in Yukon and 12,000 in British Columbia.
Centered on Haines Junction, the easterly portion of CAFN’s traditional territory lies in the Yukon River watershed, while the larger, westerly portion lies in the Alsek River watershed. Much of Kluane National Park (Yukon) and all of Tatshenshini-Alsek Park (BC) lie within CAFN’s traditional territory.
The Champagne & Aishihik First Nations’ government structure is established by its Constitution, which was developed according to the Self-Government Agreement. Among other things, the Constitution establishes the four branches of the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations government: the General Assembly, the First Nations Council, the Elders Council, and the Youth Council.
Champagne & Aishihik First Nations’ native language is Southern Tutchone, a member of the Athapaskan language family, which includes Navajo, the Dene languages and most Yukon Indian languages.
In former days, most people in the southern section of the territory were bilingual, speaking both Southern Tutchone and Tlingit.
A hundred years ago, the Champagne & Aishihik people pursued a subsistence-hunting and fishing lifestyle.
Caribou, moose, Dall sheep, mountain goat, gophers and small mammals were hunted and trapped for food and clothing. The annual runs of sockeye, coho and chinook up the Tatshenshini River were a time of plenty and celebration.
These runs would bring people from as far away as Aishihik to the settlements on the Tatshenshini River and its tributaries.
Resident fish species in the lakes and rivers were also an important food source and were taken throughout the year.
In addition to this abundance, berries were also gathered by the women and preserved in grease to add variety to the diet throughout the year. CAFN people knew how to use many local plants as medicine for healing.
Trapping activities increased during the 19th century when Chilkat traders moved inland from their coastal communities to secure furs from the Southern Tutchone.
The Chilkats traded these furs to the Russians and later the Euro-American traders along the coast. This was a period of change during which many cultural exchanges and intermarriages took place between the two cultures.
The Chilkats protected this trade route until the discovery of Klondike gold in 1898, initiating the first great influx of non-natives into the region.
Fur trapping is still practiced on both a full- and part-time basis and most community members continue to exercise their subsistence rights to hunt and fish.
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