Substance use health emergency, emergency preparedness and wildland fire resiliency topped the agenda at the Yukon Forum in Dawson City on Sept. 26.
Premier Ranj Pillai, Council of Yukon First Nations Grand Chief Peter Johnston, Yukon government cabinet ministers and Yukon First Nations chiefs met over two days at Äłät Nëhëjël (Trʼondëk Hwëchʼin Community Hall) in Dawson for deliberations on how to work together to solve common problems.
Pillai said the substance use health emergency continues to be a pressing priority for all governments, which are committed to working together to respond to the crisis.
He said leaders had the opportunity to discuss emergency preparedness and what they could do better to deal with the inevitable challenges in the future.
“This past year we saw the impact of climate change in the form of floods and fires. While we can’t predict what the next emergency will be, we know that it will come and our planning will be the difference between life and death, both surviving and thriving,” he said.
He said the leaders had discussions on how to bolster wildfire response, capacity, and prevention as well as mitigation activities such as FireSmart projects.
New mining legislation
The leaders also discussed legislative and policy priorities including the Yukon Wetlands Policy, and successor minerals and lands legislation where the government and First Nations are working together.
Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Hähkè (Chief) Darren Taylor said new mining legislation is important so First Nations can benefit from Yukon resources.
Taylor said the millions and millions of ounces of minerals taken from their traditional territory amounts to billions of dollars over the more than 100 years that mining activities have been going on.
“If we had a proper system in place, all the benefits and royalties could go towards dealing with the housing crisis, drug addictions, opioid crisis, education, health, hiring doctors and nurses, ensuring that we have adequate ambulance services,” he said.
“We need to see that our interests are being protected while we have these discussions. If not, what’s the need of engaging in these discussions around the wetlands; If there are no measures, we may have no wetlands to protect.”
Residential school findings
Before the forum started, Pillai said officials received a briefing from the Yukon Residential School and Missing Children Project on the findings of the Chooutla Residential School investigation. The Chooutla school was a former residential school in Carcross that operated from 1903 to 1969.
“We were reminded of the legacy of the residential school, and colonization continues to have a lasting effect and negative impact on Yukon First Nations and Indigenous people,” he said. “This meeting was a validation that our collaborative work through the Yukon Forum to advance reconciliation remains as important as ever.”
Pillai thanked the group and the Carcross/Tagish First Nation for carrying out the project on missing children on behalf of all Yukoners.
“Their work to uncover the truth about the children who went missing from the residential school is vital to support the healing of families and communities,” he said. “I want to offer my support to survivors and families who lost children to residential schools. Your heartbreak is shared by everyone across Yukon.”
He said the government will continue to offer counselling support to victims of the residential system school in the territory.
Pillai said there was also an important conversation about plans to meet with federal ministers to advocate for shared Yukon priorities with a united voice.
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