CBC reporter Mike Rudyk examines 50 years of Yukon land claim history in a new documentary
The people of the Yukon celebrated a significant anniversary this week. On Tuesday it was 50 years since a group of Indigenous leaders from the area traveled to Ottawa to effectively begin negotiations over land claims. They did this with a detailed position paper, Together today for our children of tomorrow.
It would be 20 years before Yukon’s Umbrella Final Agreement (UFA) was signed. Individual land claims and self-government agreements would follow for 11 of the 14 First Nations in the Yukon.
Longtime CBC North reporter and videographer Mike Rudyk has prepared a video documentary to mark the anniversary this week. She explores the complicated path together today to UFA.
Rudyk spoke to them Yukon morning host Elyn Jones on his documentary you can watch above.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Tell us more about what you’ve been working on to mark this anniversary.
I spoke to ours [CBC Yukon] Station manager Karen Vallevand, and she said wouldn’t it be great if we could do a piece that represents the entire period of land claims from 1973 to the final agreements of 1993. And I said, “Yeah, that would be great, I think that would be a really good project.” It’s a big project. So I was sort of ‘voluntary’.
It’s something I’ve thought about over the years that it would be really nice to go down to the basement of the CBC, our archives, and look at all the old tapes. We have many archive recordings from that period. I thought I could just go through these tapes and show people what it was like at that time.
You’re a longtime videographer here in the Yukon, and you’ve been to many of these general assemblies and where these meetings were held. What kind of memories did it bring back for you?
It brought back a lot. Because, you know, when I look through some of the tapes, I see my colleague and one of my best friends, [CBC Yukon videographer] Wayne Vallevand, and he’s in the middle … he put the camera right in the middle and then you kind of got a 360-degree shot of the people speaking.
I was younger then, much younger, and I didn’t really understand much about the land claims. I really understand what the land claims are about today. But back then, you know, we were pretty young and we just thought, “This is a shoot like any other shoot and we’re going to cover it and document it.”
And so the meaning today is like, oh my god, it’s so incredible. And I’m so glad I was there and so was Wayne and all the other videographers at the time. We have been able to document this historic event over the last 20 years, 50 years.
Looking through all those tapes, what did you decide on?
I wanted to do a history of the land claims, starting in 1973 when Elijah Smith and the 12 chiefs went to Ottawa, and then I wanted to talk about the journey from that time.
It was about three or four years after they had their first agreement, and it really was like the federal government saying, “Well, see if they want to bite that.” It was a really low offer. I can’t remember the exact amount, but it was about $10 million and 100 square kilometers of land for each of the 12 Yukon First Nations.
The 1984 agreement was basically a lot more money. That was $620 million over 20 years and 20,000 square kilometers of land. And you know, some of the ministers came in, eh [Indian Affairs Minister] John Munro, and he says, “That’s the best deal you’re going to get. That’s a great offer.” And it was fun to watch because for the Yukon First Nations, it was never about the money. It was always about future generations.
One of the things they put in here  Agreement that killed it was the delete clause. One of the people that I’ve had the opportunity to talk to in this documentary and that I’m really proud of is [lawyer and former chief negotiator for the Council of Yukon First Nations] Dave Joe, and he explained what extinction is – you know, losing your Aboriginal rights.
There were obviously First Nations who wanted that  Agree because it was so long ago. Finally this agreement is on the table and it’s like, “We should take it, we should take it.”
But the erasure clause…four of the First Nations just didn’t think it was a good thing for our people and blocked it. They needed 10 of the 12 First Nations to vote on it for it to go ahead, and it never did. As Dave said, it was basically the deal breaker.
So I covered all that, and then we get into the Umbrella Final Agreement, which was the Land Claims Agreement that we all know about today. The Champagne and Aishihik First Nations, the Teslin Tlingit Council, the Nacho Nyak Dun First Nation and the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation were the first four to sign the agreement. And from there, other First Nations could sign themselves over the next six to seven years. There’s a lot of history in there.
This is personal to you too – you are a citizen of Champagne and Aishihik First Nations. What does that mean for you?
The land claims were a very important part of my life. I’ve seen our First Nation grow. In the documentary, I speak to our former chief, Steve Smith, and he said we now have over 500 people working for our First Nation.
And you know, I see a lot of people benefiting from our First Nations. One of the greatest things for our First Nation is that a lot of our young people go to school — so there’s a path they have to follow, and our First Nation supports that path to go to college, and those young people come back and work for our First Nation. And you know, education has always been an important thing in this document on land claims, Together today for our children of tomorrow. Education has always been a priority and I’m starting to see that now. I’m super proud.
In the next 50 years we’re going to have a lot of educated First Nations and a lot of healthy First Nations, and I think it’s going to be a much better place for us. Our elders who created the land claims, you know, like Elijah Smith, Dave Joe, Paul Birckel – there are so many names to be thankful for, these people who gave their lives to improve our lives.