The federal government says it wants to reach an interim funding agreement with the Carcross/Tagish First Nation.
But the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development refused to answer questions about when that was said to the self-governing Yukon First Nation, or why meetings scheduled in May were abruptly cancelled and have yet to be rescheduled.
“We cannot comment with regard to any such private meeting,” wrote Genevieve Guibert, spokesperson for the federal department in an email to the News. “These are matters being discussed by the parties, and Canada needs to respect the confidentiality of these discussions.”
The Carcross-based, self-governing Tlingit group has reached a stalemate with Ottawa. It is supposed to renegotiate its financial transfer with the federal government every five years. That money constitutes almost its entire budget.
Ottawa refused to negotiate on anything, said Danny Cresswell, the First Nation’s newly elected chief, or Kha Shade Heni as it is called in Tlingit tradition.
Essentially, Ottawa made a take-it-or-leave-it offer, he said. When the First Nation declined, pointing out that their constitutionally-backed agreements with Canada specifically say all financial transfers must be negotiated, and even lists 11 specific points to be discussed, Ottawa left the table, said Cresswell.
Since then, the new leader has been able to negotiate an extension of their old arrangement until September.
After the First Nation contacted the media, including staunch Liberal and former Chretien spin doctor Warren Kinsella, the federal department said it still wanted to reach an interim agreement with Carcross/Tagish.
But no meetings are currently being held, said Cresswell.
“We can’t even get in the door. This is the first we’ve heard of any interim agreement.”
The closest thing the First Nation has received was a letter from John Duncan, minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, saying he hoped they could “continue dialogue.” That came after Cresswell negotiated the extension until September, but before the minister’s office cancelled their May meetings after the First Nation had already booked its plane tickets, said Cresswell.
Ottawa is also unwilling to fund any programs and services, another detail entrenched in the First Nation’s agreements.
For example, the Carcross/Tagish has sought to administer family support and child care for its own citizens. It has developed its own Family Act and would like to assume responsibility for its children currently in the territory’s care.
Ottawa won’t even discuss it until the First Nation signs the agreement that is already on the table.
“Canada’s FTA offer does not specifically include additional funding for program and service delivery,” Guibert’s email said. “The approximately $1.65-million increase in funding is intended to aid Carcross/Tagish in its governance activities. As a self-governing First Nation, Carcross/Tagish can reallocate any of the funding it receives on the basis of its own priorities. But the proposed Family Act is a separate matter that is being discussed between CTFN, the government of Canada and the government of Yukon. We need to respect the confidentiality of these discussions.”
The other 10 self-governing First Nations in the Yukon accepted the financial transfers Ottawa offered. But, for the four First Nations that first signed agreements in the territory, those transfers have been growing for 11 years longer than Carcross/Tagish, said Cresswell.
That makes a difference of about $1.6 million, he said.
If that difference was added to the transfer, the First Nation may be more willing to agree.
The offer given to the Carcross/Tagish is “on par” with those offered to the other 10 Yukon First Nations, said Guibert.
No Yukon First Nations will receive funding to run their own programs and services until the territory, Canada and the First Nation all sit down together to ensure there won’t be any duplication, the email said.
Those talks won’t happen for the Carcross/Tagish until it signs the offer extended last August, Guibert added.
The Carcross/Tagish operate by consensus. Any major decision goes to the entire citizenry, usually at community meetings, and the Kha Shade Heni acts on what the people decide. Cresswell’s people have told him not to sign the offer that’s on the table.
But if nothing changes, the new leader doesn’t know what will
happen when the extension he negotiated runs out at the end of next month.
“That’s a really big question,” he said. “The unemployment, the frustration people are going to have, I mean, people have mortgages and payments and lives that they have to keep up with. It’s going to be – it’s not going to be really nice. I don’t even want to think about that or go there.”
The First Nation is holding another community meeting on the subject in September.
Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at