Grand Chief Peter Johnston, left, and Yukon Premier Sandy Silver at the virtual Yukon Forum press conference in Whitehorse on May 14. (Alistair Maitland/Government of Yukon)

COVID-19 and reopening dominate talks at Yukon Forum

“What I heard from the chiefs was really positive”

The premier, cabinet, the Council of Yukon First Nations’ grand chief and First Nations chiefs met virtually on May 14 for the territory’s first online Yukon Forum, held using video conferencing software.

Unsurprisingly, this forum focused on the COVID-19 pandemic and how the Yukon government and First Nations can work together.

Peter Johnston, the grand chief of the Council of Yukon First Nations and Premier Sandy Silver answered questions about the forum on May 14.

Silver said he missed the face-to-face meeting but this forum was historic nonetheless since it took place on all traditional territories at once.

The meeting centred on the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, keeping people safe and how to reopen the economy.

Johnston said there were essential gaps that needed to be addressed regarding the jurisdiction of self-governing First Nations.

While there are mechanisms in place to ensure the First Nations have a say and can enact legislation regarding settlement lands, traditional territory and how citizens can move through them, he explained that none of the First Nations governments have ever had to deal with a pandemic in the last 25 years.

Many realized there needed to be something in place to guide government operations, protecting citizens and partnerships with the territory. This way, both First Nations and the territorial government can better stand together in a response.

He said this is important because it is likely this will not be the only crisis First Nations and the territorial government will face.

“That is one glaring example of what we need to deal with moving forward,” Johnston said.

Another gap centres on continuing with governmental responsibilities while adhering to the social distancing principles. This can affect the ways a government can engage with citizens and how the territory can consult First Nations.

Silver added that the Civil Emergency Measures Act dates back to 1984, which does not recognize self-government. He said he hopes to address this shortcoming in order to better work with First Nations.

The premier outlined one concern, centered on who is performing the jobs the officers patrolling the border would normally do. Silver said that the government looks to various personnel like conservation officers, land officers and liquor officers to fill in for people transferred to border monitoring.

Johnston feels that First Nations have adapted well to life under the pandemic and that the community understands the severity of the virus and is encouraging citizens to take safety in account.

“We’ve always rebounded well,” Johnston said.

He wants to see the seriousness in the pandemic response continued, as First Nations are a more vulnerable demographic with their elders.

Silver said he understands that First Nations are concerned about the health and safety of elders and rural communities, but said that the territory needs to continue planning for reopening.

“What I heard from the chiefs was really positive,” Silver said.

With the Yukon borders shut for the foreseeable future, he said that this could mean putting more Yukon contractors to work. Silver explained this would be a good way to come out stronger when the pandemic ends as money would be flowing and staying in the territory.

As for the reopening plan, Johnston said it is important to ensure that Yukon First Nations companies are given opportunities through procurement, allowing First Nations to rebound as the economy recovers.

Silver said his government has been updating and speaking with First Nations and municipalities frequently on developing the reopening plan.

“We’re looking forward to being engaged in that reopening plan and continuing the partnership to ensure the communities are in lockstep,” Silver said.

He explained that before the pandemic, Yukon had the lowest unemployment rate and it was easier for everyone to travel. Under the pandemic, local companies have to be relied on more since Outside travel is more difficult, Silver said.

Contact Gord Fortin at

Council of Yukon First NationsYukon government

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Yukon RCMP say they’ve received three reports of youth being extorted online. (Black Press file)
Yukon youth being extorted online

Yukon youth being extorted online Yukon RCMP say they’ve received three reports… Continue reading

Fines for contravening the fire ban start at $1,150 and could go as high as $100,000. File photo
Yukon campgrounds will open on May 1 this year. (Black Press file)
Yukon campgrounds to open early

Yukon campgrounds will open on May 1 this year. The early opening… Continue reading

Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce executive director Susan Guatto and program manager Andrei Samson outside the chamber office in downtown Whitehorse Feb. 23. (Stephanie Waddell, Yukon News)
When business models shift

Whitehorse chamber offers digital marketing workshop

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: The aesthetics and economics of highway strips

One of the many cultural experiences you enjoy while driving from Whitehorse… Continue reading

Artwork by Grade 2 student Faith showing her thanks for everyone.
Artwork by Grade 2 student Faith showing her thanks for everyone. (Submitted)
Yukon kids express gratitude for nature, pets and friends in art campaign

More than 50 children submitted artwork featuring things they are grateful for

Tom Ullyett, pictured, is the first Yukoner to receive the Louis St-Laurent Award of Excellence from the Canadian Bar Association for his work as a community builder and mentor in the territory. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)
Tom Ullyett wins lifetime achievement award from the Canadian Bar Association

Ullyett has worked in the Yukon’s justice ecosystem for 36 years as a public sector lawyer and mentor

The Blood Ties outreach van will now run seven nights a week, thanks to a boost in government funding. Logan Godin, coordinator, and Jesse Whelen, harm reduction counsellor, are seen here on May 12, 2020. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Blood Ties outreach van running seven nights a week with funding boost

The Yukon government is ramping up overdose response, considering safe supply plan

Ranj Pillai speaks to media about business relief programs in Whitehorse on April 1, 2020. The Yukon government announced Feb.25 that it will extend business support programs until September. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Government extends business relief programs to September, launches new loan

“It really gives folks some help with supporting their business with cash flow.”

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
A look at decisions made by Whitehorse City Council this week

Bylaw amendment Whitehorse city council is moving closer with changes to a… Continue reading

Susie Rogan is a veteran musher with 14 years of racing experience and Yukon Journey organizer. (Yukon Journey Facebook)
Yukon Journey mushers begin 255-mile race

Eleven mushers are participating in the race from Pelly Crossing to Whitehorse

Legislative assembly on the last day of the fall sitting in Whitehorse on Nov. 22, 2018. As the legislature prepares to return on March 4, the three parties are continuing to finalize candidates in the territory’s 19 ridings. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Nine new candidates confirmed in Yukon ridings

It has been a busy two weeks as the parties try to firm up candidates

David Malcolm, 40, has been charged with assaulting and attempting to disarm a police officer after an incident in Whitehorse on Feb. 18. (Phil McLachlan/Capital News)
Man resists arrest, assaults officer

A Whitehorse man has been charged with assaulting and attempting to disarm… Continue reading

Yukon Energy in Whitehorse on Aug. 4, 2020. A site on Robert Service Way near the Alaska Highway has been selected as the future home of Yukon Energy’s energy storage project. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Site selected for Yukon Energy battery project

Planned to be in service by the end of 2022

Most Read