The Yukon government and the Council of Yukon First Nations have a new agreement to start working together more closely.
Grand Chief Ruth Massie said the CYFN leaders invited Premier Darrell Pasloski to attend the last round of leadership meetings earlier this month to discuss ways for all the leaders to sit down together and start talking more openly.
These discussions are intended to address “common issues and common concerns for the betterment of everyone in this territory,” Massie said.
The agreement will see the premier and some of his ministers attending CYFN leadership meetings more often to discuss issues that affect the relationship between the territory and its First Nations.
The council’s list of topics to discuss with the premier include land-use planning, health, resource revenue sharing and collaboration on spending from funds like the federal gas tax.
The parties will also work towards arranging three-way intergovernmental meetings between the Yukon government, First Nations and Ottawa.
The new meetings won’t replace the Yukon Forum, Massie said, but will instead give the First Nations and the government a place to hash out their issues.
“We have to start talking. We have postponed the Yukon Forum for quite some time now, and it’s the government’s feeling that we shouldn’t have to sit down and rehash issues, but we should be able to celebrate at the Yukon Forum. If we’re going to celebrate anything, the legwork has to be done,” Massie said.
Premier Pasloski said the discussions and frank talks will focus on issues that affect all Yukon First Nations, though he didn’t provide any specifics.
Massie said this invitation for more face time with the premier is extended to all 14 Yukon First Nations, including the three without signed final agreements in place. The unsigned First Nations can sit at the CYFN leadership table with the premier as observers, she said.
But the Liard First Nation wasn’t part of the talks for this agreement, and Chief Liard McMillan said at this point his government has no plan to take part.
He said relations with the territorial government are still strained at best.
“I’d say unfortunately because of the government’s ongoing conduct of divide and conquer it’s not a positive relationship at all,” McMillan said.
He said he’s worried that the premier isn’t being straightforward in his negotiations with the various First Nations, especially around the issue of sharing royalties from resource extraction.
“I’ve been hearing feedback from the other chiefs that the premier’s told them that the Kaska are getting a better deal, and yet we’re being told by the same government that we don’t get a share in the royalties unless we sign a final agreement under the Umbrella Final Agreement,” McMillan said.
“And so one of the new questions that’s cropped up is (the government) negotiating a royalty sharing agreement with other First Nations that could potentially involve royalties that are from resources extracted from Kaska traditional territory. I would say all of the ones that have not signed, the Ross River, White River and Liard First Nations would be basically left out in the mud,” McMillan said.
The premier said the Liard First Nation is always welcome at the negotiating table, whether or not they have a signed final agreement.
“Again, I’ve had many attempts this year to reach out to Chief McMillan. He was one of the chiefs that wasn’t at the meetings but we certainly would love to have him at the table,” Pasloski said.
While the agreement to start having meetings is now in place, no dates have yet been set.
Contact Jesse Winter at firstname.lastname@example.org