Gwich’in Land Claim

In 1992 the Gwich’in of the lower Mackenzie valley became the first Dene group to negotiate and settle a land claim with the Government of Canada. After the Dene/Métis Comprehensive Land Claim failed, the Gwich’in Tribal Council (GTC) began regional land claim negotiations, and an Agreement in Principle (AIP), based on the previous Dene/Métis negotiations, was reached. In September 1991, Gwich’in beneficiaries voted 94% in favour of accepting the terms of this AIP. This Gwich’in Comprehensive Land Claim Agreement (GCLCA) was approved in the House of Commons on December 22, 1992.

The GCLCA covers most of the Arctic Red River watershed, a part of the Mackenzie Delta and northeast Yukon Territory. Under the Agreement, the Gwich’in were given legal title to a territory more than three times the size of the province of Prince Edward Island. They now own 16,264 square kilometres of land in the Northwest Territories (including 2,378 square kilometres of land with subsurface rights) along with 1,554 square kilometres of land in the Yukon. They also received financial compensation of $75 million (1990 dollars) over 15 years.

The Gwich’in Tribal Council (GTC) administers the provisions of the GCLCA. Its obligations “relate to matters such as resource management, land management, economic development, financial management, wildlife harvesting, enrolment, land use planning, parks, heritage resources, self-government, and protected areas.”

Shortly after the Gwich’in Comprehensive Land Claim Agreement was signed in 1992, the GTC created the Gwich’in Development Corporation, an investment company focusing on “increasing revenues through local development activities occurring within the Gwich’in Settlement Region of the Yukon and Northwest Territories … to ensure beneficiaries of the Gwich’in Comprehensive Land Claim Agreement are involved in training, employment and business opportunities created from these activities.”

The business investments of Gwich’in Development Corporation include companies in the construction, oil and gas exploration, real estate, hospitality and transportation sectors. In 2021 the Settlement fund exceeded 139 million dollars.