Two years into its final agreement implementation, Carcross/Tagish First Nation is already looking to build for the next the generation of its people.
With a focus on early childhood education and creating individual wealth, the First Nation is focused on the future, said newly appointed chief Mark Wedge.
Creating wealth for individuals, not just the First Nation as a whole, should be the goal of any economic development, said Wedge.
A development corporation run by a clan-based independent board is working to create employment and investment opportunities for Carcross/Tagish members.
Encouraging citizens to start their own businesses is the best way to create wealth in the community and build a stable, long-term economic base, he said.
Several trusts have been established, including one using the compensation dollars received under the final agreement signed in 2005. Another is an education and economic trust.
“What we want is to get our citizens access to capital to start businesses, and the government is responsible for creating that environment and getting the infrastructure in place,” said Wedge.
“If our citizens are wealthy, then our nation will be wealthy.”
Wedge is serving his second four-year term after his reappointment to the position by a group of six clan leaders. The chief is also referred to as the Kha Shade Heni.
Five of the six clan leaders, or Auxadi, voted for Wedge’s reappointment in an in-camera meeting on Saturday.
Candidates for chief are chosen from the clan representatives on the executive council.
Wedge, who signed and ratified the First Nation’s final and self-government agreements during his first term, noted several areas the First Nation will be working on in the coming years, including economic development, education, tourism and infrastructure.
In 2005, the First Nation ceded the rights to the 10,500 square-kilometre footprint of traditional territory that sits on top of a confirmed oil and gas basin in exchange for 1,561 square kilometres and about $38 million in compensation to be paid out over 15 years.
As First Nations with final agreements continue devolution, infrastructure is needed to provide services and house staff and operations.
Infrastructure, then, is a priority for Carcross/Tagish, said Wedge.
The First Nation started work on two major projects during Wedge’s first term.
A cultural centre and meeting place facility has been identified as a priority and plans are in the works for an early-childhood education centre.
The Family Act, in its final stages of development, has been worked on for nearly five years and is about to become law.
The act is a compliment to existing justice laws.
Citizens are being trained in community-based dispute resolution and administration of justice, said Wedge.
The act broadens criminal and civil laws with the help of other agencies.
The First Nation is holding discussions with the RCMP about implementation and enforcement, said Wedge.
One of the first programs the First Nation is developing is housing, but not social housing, said Wedge.
“It’s citizen-based housing,” he said. “We’re trying to develop a program that will provide access to capital for people to build houses. It’s about home ownership.”
Carcross/Tagish has been an outspoken critic of the government, including writing letters of support for the Little Salmon/Carmacks court case, which has the territory appealing a Yukon Supreme Court decision to overturn a land sale because the government failed to properly consult the First Nation.
Wedge met with Premier Dennis Fentie and his officials during a recent community tour and the First Nation wasn’t coy about its problem with the territory.
“We were up front about our relationship being strained, but as a government we have to work together and rebuild that relationship,” said Wedge.
“They can’t ignore us and we can’t ignore them. Both attitudes need to be accommodating.”
At the recent intergovernmental forum with Indian and Northern Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl, Yukon First Nations raised similar issues.
Rebuilding rapport between the two sides won’t be easy, but one way to improve is to leave the courts out of the process, said Wedge.
“There shouldn’t be court cases and the question is how to resolve our issues without going to court,” he added.
“You can’t say we don’t have a good relationship with the government as a whole. We do work with some departments better than others, and those goes towards some of the leadership in the departments and the ministers.”
Wedge, a member of the Deisheetaan clan, is the first chief to have led Carcross/Tagish First Nation under the clan system through a full term.
Andy Carvill, now Council of Yukon First Nations grand chief, was the first chief elected under the clan system.