‘Momentous milestone’: First Nation in Yukon buys wilderness ranch

The Kwanlin Dün First Nation in Whitehorse is venturing into new territory – tourism.

On Monday, Chief Sean Smith announced the First Nation is the new owner of the Sky High Wilderness Ranch in Fish Lake, around 30 minutes west of the city.

The 24 hectare off-grid ranch, which has been open to visitors for over 30 years, offers activities like dog sledding, horse rides and cabin and lodge stays. The ranch is located on the First Nation’s traditional territory.

The purchase comes with a 3.5 million price tag. Kwanlin Dün will be the sole owner of the ranch.

Smith described its new business venture as a “momentous milestone.”

“Over time, this historic purchase will also strengthen our connection to our culture, traditions and ancestors.  Kwanlin Dün First Nation has created opportunities for citizens to experience time on the land and to learn land-based activities that connect people, place and culture,” he said.

Kwanlin Dün First Nation Chief Sean Smith at the announcement Monday. Photo: Dylan MacNeil/Kwanlin Dün First Nation

According to Smith, the ranch is located in an area of archeological significance dating back 7,500 years. He said ice patch research has identified a number of artifacts recovered in the area.

The purchase, he said, will allow the First Nation to benefit economically.

“To reclaim this piece around having a stronger connection to our land (will) really build on reconciliation in a number of different ways,” he said.

The First Nation plans to offer tourism packages as usual and will not be making any changes, at least for the time being. One of the previous owners will also be kept on and act as a general manager.

Smith said the plan is to offer more cultural experiences in the future. He pointed out the ranch includes a trapline.

“Cultural tourism has been a really, really strong point within the last 15 to 20 years in terms of people looking for authentic experiences,” he said.

Smith said the ranch will also likely be used to provide training opportunities for citizens.

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