Chiefs seek funding deal

Financial transfers from Ottawa to self-governing Yukon First Nations end in March 2009. There isn’t another transfer agreement waiting to…

Financial transfers from Ottawa to self-governing Yukon First Nations end in March 2009.

There isn’t another transfer agreement waiting to fill the void and Ottawa has yet to start serious negotiations.

But a deal can be hammered out within the year, said Vuntut Gwitchin Chief Joe Linklater.

“It can be done in less than a year because all the work we’ve done will shorten the timeframe of negotiations,” he told a media conference attended by other chiefs and Premier Dennis Fentie.

They spoke about a trip to Ottawa for tri-lateral meetings with federal ministers and officials about self-government agreement implementation.

Champagne and Aishihik Chief Diane Strand, Tr’ondek Hwech’in Chief Darren Taylor and Carcross/Tagish Chief Mark Wedge, who were also in Ottawa, attended the media conference.

They sought a mandate to negotiate a new funding arrangement with Ottawa.

Implementation funding is inadequate, which explains the problems First Nations have in building capacity for self-government, said Ta’an Kwach’an Chief Ruth Massie.

And federal policies and practices are inconsistent with commitments in agreements, she added.

“This means Ottawa has not yet made the fiscal, political or bureaucratic changes needed to recognize self-governing First Nations as distinct entities from bands administered under the Indian Act,” said Massie.

“Our agreements are with the government of Canada, not with the department of Indian and Northern Affairs.”

The message was well received, said Fentie.

“Federal ministers are starting to espouse the fact that the Yukon is a model for the rest of Canada for how things can be done in governance,” he said.

Even though funding is the No. 1 issue facing implementation, the chiefs did not go to Ottawa with open hands.

“We didn’t go asking for money; we wanted a new mandate that reflects the findings of the nine-year review,” said Linklater.

There are issues, such as the cost of governance, where the two parties agree.

Leave those off the negotiation table and deal with the points of contention, said Linklater.

A major hurdle to dealing with the government is that there is no sole bureaucrat dedicated to self-government First Nations.

Indian and Northern Affairs is not responsible for them and implementation issues cut across several departments.

That creates problems when First Nations are trying to wade through the large bureaucracy, said Linklater.

“We still need to find a single person who has the authority to crack the whip across departmental lines at the senior officials level,” he said.

The whip is needed because other departments believe the agreements are with Indian and Northern Affairs and not the Crown, said Massie.

“Some departments fail to take into account the existence of self-governing Yukon First Nations altogether,” she said.

That means programming and funding opportunities offered to Indian bands are missed, she added.