Carcross locks down change

The doors of the Carcross/Tagish First Nation government building have been barricaded. “And those doors will stay locked until our people see change,” said the man, who chained shut the handles and blocked the entrance with a bench on Tuesday morning.

CARCROSS

The doors of the Carcross/Tagish First Nation government building have been barricaded.

“And those doors will stay locked until our people see change,” said the man, who chained shut the handles and blocked the entrance with a bench on Tuesday morning.

He calls himself Kachneec, his Tlingit name. The other protesters call him Bobbie.

Change is on everyone’s mind in this community.

The Carcross/Tagish leadership is reforming the First Nation, drawing on a Boston, Massachusetts, movement called Theory of Change, which has been used to rehabilitate gangmembers, smokers and small communities throughout the world, according to deputy chief Danny Cresswell.

“This stuff has worked all around the world,” said Cresswell. “It’s getting people on a better track of life, a better quality of life.”

So while protesters chain and barricade their offices, the First Nation staff is being trained on the new theory up the hill at the Carcross recreation centre

The First Nation has already started working with its theory within the school system, along with the Yukon government, said Chief Mark Wedge.

“Anytime change occurs, people aren’t happy with it,” he said. “And that’s what’s happening. People aren’t happy.”

Down at the campfire before the government building, that’s clear.

Here, Theory Of Change has become a punchline.

“It’s only words,” said Harold Gatensby, cofounder of the Yukon River Intertribal Watershed Council. “The Theory Of Change, if you look it up on the internet, is some intellectual person who wrote a book and said this is the way he thinks things should be. We’re guinea pigs. What do you call that when they’re taking executives to Boston to plan our future then telling us we’re broke?”

When the plan started affecting social assistance, many people started to take action.

Late last year, letters were mailed to citizens who receive the First Nations’ temporary financial assistance payments explaining it’s too expensive and many people who receive it are employable.

The cost of financial assistance grew again last year, which prevented spending on language programs and other initiatives, said Wedge.

But the protesters assert this isn’t just about money.

“The underlying tone is that we’re a bunch of crybabies because we’re getting cut off welfare,” said Gatensby. “But that’s not true.”

Their goal is for a more transparent and democratic leadership, they said.

“It’s not supposed to be the way it is now: a dictatorship leadership,” said one protestor who also would only give his Tlingit name, Shakoon. “Not listening to people, bullying people around, taking things away. If you are on SA, or an employee of the First Nation, and you speak out against that, they’ll take your job away, they’ll cut you off of SA or they’ll do other things to you.”

“The change I am looking for is to be involved,” said Kachneec. “We say, ‘No’ and they go ahead and do it anyway.”

The Carcross/Tagish First Nation follows a clan system, where representatives for all five clans are elected to the executive.

This system is the main argument for both sides of the transparency dispute.

For the protestors, it is cronyism.

For leadership, it’s a traditional democracy.

“Carcross/Tagish First Nation is probably more accountable and more transparent than most governments, both Yukon, Canada and other First Nation governments,” said Wedge, listing the different departments, their clan representatives and their public meetings, which he adds, many people don’t attend.

The chief met with the protestors Tuesday afternoon, but attempts to negotiate were rejected.

The development compound has also been chained.

Protesters tried to barricade the recreation centre on Wednesday, but were confronted by government employees. Eventually the protesters gave up and went back to their fire down by the office complex.

So far, the protest has been peaceful, but the fire remains burning, chains still on the door.

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at roxannes@yukon-news.com