by Duane Aucoin
Our Teslin Tlingit clan government is based upon Haa Koosteeyi, our Tlingit way. This organizational structure was around long before there was a Yukon and Canada. It guided our people and helped us to flourish to this day.
The Teslin Tlingit clan system is divided into two separate moieties, Wolf and Raven. We are then further organized into clans under each moiety. Under the Wolf are the Yanyeidi and Dakl’aweidi clans. And under the Raven are the Kookhitaan, Deisheetaan and Ishkitaan clans.
The clans are both separate and distinct but also interconnected and dependant upon each other. No clan can survive on its own but needs the other clans.
The internal business of the clans is looked after by their own. But, when necessary, the five clans come together as equals to work together for the good of everyone.
This is how we lived for countless generations until the Canadian government imposed their Indian Act upon us which forbid us to practise Haa Koosteeyi. We were forced to adopt the Western concept of democracy in an attempt to assimilate us into so called “civilized” society.
The Indian Act band council never worked for our people because it was not our way. The Indian Act was responsible for most of the suffering in our communities. This was because it was foreign and incompatible with who the Creator made us to be.
Thankfully, after many years of struggle, in 1993 the Teslin Tlingit Council signed our self-government agreement with Canada and the Yukon.
We were finally free of the Indian Act and its imposed structures and processes and free to return to our own practice of democracy.
TTC, with the direction of our elders, have developed a contemporary expression of our clan system of governance. We are divided into four separate branches of government: general council, elders council, executive council and the justice council.
The highest legislative body is the general council. It consists of 25 members, composed of five representatives from each of the Teslin Tlingit clans. As our constitution states, “Each clan shall, according to their traditional custom, select five representatives from their clan and appoint them to be members of the general council for a term of four years.”
This system supports the concept of equality of the clans by having five representatives from each clan, regardless of the size of their membership.
This is one of the main differences with our way and the Western way. Haa Koosteeyi is not about individualism but about the collective. The clan is our collective.
The clan representatives work together with the other clans for the good of the whole community. It is the duty of these representatives to, on a regular basis, actively engage their clan members to both give information and receive direction. It is also the duty of the clan members to actively engage in their clan and government. If they choose to not engage, then they, by choice, give up their voice.
Each clan speaks as one voice and then these five voices speak as one voice in general council which operates by consensus.
It is not “majority rules” as in the Western way where the majority imposes their will upon the minority. Consensus is a more cumbersome system of governance but it is by far the most productive one as everyone must work together to achieve one common solution. There is no official opposition as everyone is the government.
Now due to different circumstances there are some of our citizens who are not currently recognized by one of the five Teslin clans. But general council recently passed our new citizenship code in November 2012, which enables the First Nation to begin working with the clans to rectify this situation.
In the interim, to give these citizens an opportunity to have a voice in their government, TTC holds regular all-citizens meetings to both give information and seek direction.
Today TTC is attempting to bridge the traditional with the contemporary with all matters and in particular in how we select our chief.
But no process is perfect, and TTC recognizes that some citizens feel the need to further enhance our selection process for the chief to better reflect Haa Koosteeyi. Because we are self-governing we have that freedom to amend this process whenever required. TTC has committed to its citizens to engage them in this development.
So democracy is alive and well in Teslin – it’s just different than what most people may be familiar with. But different does not mean wrong. It means variety.
We invite everyone to Teslin this July 26-28 to celebrate this beautiful gift of variety at our third Ha Kus Teyea Celebration.
Gunalcheesh ka yeegooiyax’wan. Thank you and take care.
Duane Gastant’ Aucoin is the Yanyeidi executive councillor with the Teslin Tlingit Council.