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Carcross/Tagish FN points out principles to PM

During meetings in the nation's capital this week, Council of Yukon First Nations Grand Chief Ruth Massie made sure to bring the issue to the prime minister's attention.

Talks between the Carcross/Tagish First Nation and Ottawa have come to somewhat of a stalemate.

During meetings in the nation’s capital this week, Council of Yukon First Nations Grand Chief Ruth Massie made sure to bring the issue to the prime minister’s attention.

On Monday evening, before the official Crown-First Nations Gathering on Tuesday, chiefs grouped by region to have the chance to meet face-to-face with Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Massie got about five minutes to actually speak, she said.

She mentioned the importance of implementing land claims, self-government and final agreements signed by Canada and 11 Yukon First Nations and the need for adequate financial resources to do that, she said.

She told him it was unacceptable for Ottawa to send junior officials to the Yukon to negotiate with the First Nations, adding they often have to go back to their superiors on every little thing because they don’t have authorization.

With Deputy Kha Shade Heni of the Carcross/Tagish First Nation Danny Cresswell at her side, Massie also made sure to mention the spirit and intent of those agreements, she said.

The stalemate between the Carcross/Tagish First Nation and Ottawa is over the negotiations about the money that flows to it from the federal government.

The problem is that negotiations never really began in the first place, Cresswell explained over the phone from Vancouver Thursday.

Each self-governing First Nation is scheduled to renegotiate its financial transfer with Canada after a certain number of years as set out in the individual agreements.

For the Carcross/Tagish, it is every five years.

In its self-government agreement, the first part of the section that deals with these financial transfers says: “Canada and the Carcross/Tagish First Nation shall negotiate ...” It then goes on to list more than 11 specific points the negotiations must consider.

But last May, the First Nation wasn’t given the chance to negotiate, said Cresswell.

“Basically, it was a take-it-or-leave-it offer,” he said. “They came and said the mandate was already set. They don’t have a mandate to talk about anything else. This is what the first seven (Yukon First Nations who signed an agreement) got and now this is what you’re going to get. Take it or leave it. And that’s not what our agreement says.”

It isn’t about the money, it’s about the principle, he said.

Ottawa was even offering a little bit more money than the First Nation’s previous agreement, Cresswell said. But the Carcross/Tagish First Nation had no say or input on the offer, he said. Ottawa dictated it all.

And it didn’t look at everything it was supposed to, Cresswell said, noting it really only considered governance, not programming.

The financial transfers are supposed to be negotiated for each individual First Nation because each has an individual agreement, Cresswell said.

The Carcross/Tagish could have different needs and may want to offer different programming than the other signed First Nations.

Harper was not aware of the “take-it-or-leave-it” predicament, Massie said.

He expressed his concerns and arranged for Cresswell to meet with a parliamentary secretary.

That meeting went well, said Cresswell. He was able to voice all of his concerns, but he hasn’t received an official response just yet.

Going the political route was the only option left, Cresswell said.

Overall, Massie said she was optimistic about her time with Harper.

“I really, really felt that it was positive,” she said. “I think he was very sincere in committing to future dialogue. There’s always that glimmer of hope. And he was reminded about broken promises.”

While Yukon First Nations led the way when it comes to self-governance, similar negotiations and implementation for treaties across Canada are a main priority for a majority of First Nations that attended the Ottawa meeting.

And while he didn’t set a date, Harper said he intended to have another meeting with First Nation leaders.

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at