Aglukkaq snubs Yukon First Nations

Northern culture is the focus of a new $3.5-million tourism campaign for the three territories. But Yukon First Nations were left in the dark.

Northern culture is the focus of a new $3.5-million tourism campaign for the three territories.

But Yukon First Nations were left in the dark.

During a news conference Friday, federal Minister for the North Leona Aglukkaq and Yukon Tourism Minister Elaine Taylor both exalted the partnership between territorial governments, retracing past work together in promoting the North at the 2007 Canada Winter Games and the Winter Olympics in Vancouver last year.

“This is a partnership between governments, and all governments,” said Aglukkaq.

But Yukon First Nations were not even notified of Aglukkaq’s visit, said Council of Yukon First Nations Grand Chief Ruth Massie.

Aglukkaq couldn’t explain why Yukon First Nations were left out of the loop.

“This is not all about government,” she said. “It’s up to individuals to promote their cultures and organizations as well.”

When it comes to First Nations, their partnership comes in the form of them “piggybacking” on the “spinoffs” that come from having more visitors in the area, she said.

“As a northerner, as an aboriginal person …” she added.

But then she trailed off.

Aglukkaq mentioned the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency has supported both the Yukon Quest and Tombstone Territorial Park in the past.

Tombstone Park is a special management area controlled by both the territory and the Tr’ondek Hwech’in First Nation.

But still, no mention was made of Yukon’s self-governing First Nations.

This is just another example of public and federal governments refusing to recognize self-governing First Nations in the Yukon as real, legitimate governments, said Massie.

“We worked long and hard for over 30 years to settle our land claims and self government,” she said. “When do we deserve the recognition that we seek?”

The tension between Massie and Aglukkaq runs deep.

Just a few months ago, in her role as federal Health Minister, Aglukkaq swept Yukon First Nations’ concerns off her desk, said Massie.

For years aboriginal leaders in the territory have been working with the federal Department of Health in hopes of changing national policy, she said, noting Tony Clement was working with them even before Aglukkaq took the title.

The problem is that Health Canada’s legislation refers only to “on- and off-reserve” when outlining aboriginal programs, said Massie.

This “automatically excludes us,” she said, because following land claims, there are no reservations in the Yukon.

Massie, and her fellow aboriginal leaders in the territory, have provided the federal department with suggestions for a change in language.

Simply replacing “reservation” with “First Nation community,” would suffice, she said.

“The policies need to be inclusive. We’re not asking for anything special for ourselves but we do need to accommodate the health needs in our communities.

“Because a lot of these programs are national programs, how do they accommodate us?”

It seemed headway was being made on the issue.

But hopes were quashed in November.

Aglukkaq “wrote us a letter back in November and referred our health matters to the minister of (Indian and Northern Affairs),” said Massie. “Health Canada, being part of the government of Canada, are signatories to our agreements and they have a fiduciary obligation to accommodate self-governing First Nations in the Yukon.”

It’s not the first time Yukon’s First Nation governments have raised concerns over their issues being funnelled through the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs.

The frustration comes round whenever there is a new session of negotiations for the First Nations’ federal financial transfer agreements.

Each time, aboriginal leaders claim the process is less efficient because they are unable to deal directly with the affected department. As well, more costs are incurred, they say.

But most of all, the issues are not getting resolved and the negative effects of that are much greater.

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at

roxannes@yukon-news.com