The grand chief of the Council of Yukon First Nations says he’s hopeful the election of a new Liberal government means relationships between First Nations and the territorial government will improve.
“The sun shines every day but it’s shining a little brighter today,” Peter Johnston said last week after the Yukon Liberals won a majority government in the territorial election.
“The fact is straight out of the gate the Liberals were very clear on their mandate. It was about building that recognition of the (First Nations’) agreements, seeing them as a key tool and an opportunity for the advancement of the territory.”
Johnston said he’s friends with premier-designate Sandy Silver and has already spoken to him three or four times since election day.
He called the last 14 years under the Yukon Party government “treacherous and adversarial.”
“I don’t think every clear opportunity has been given from government to the Yukon First Nation governments to really execute and implement the agreements that we’ve signed and committed to,” he said.
As part of his campaign Silver has promised to meet with all Yukon chiefs within 30 days of taking office.
Johnston said those early meetings will be about defining the role of First Nations with the new government.
Johnston said he envisions a process where First Nations would be consulted prior to territorial budget decisions being made.
“It’s not about us taking over the budget. It’s about us doing the consultation and planning for each region as it pertains to the Yukon,” he said.
“So if there’s going to be a bridge developed in Teslin then the Teslin Tlingit Council, let alone the community, needs to be involved in the process going forward.”
Johnston said he’s not talking about giving First Nations the right of first refusal on projects, but rather making sure that they are involved with the planning process.
“If we can be a part of the planning process we’ll be able to have a better sense of involvement when the project is delivered.”
The tenure of the Yukon Party was marked with multiple lawsuits involving the Yukon government and various First Nations. The most prominent case, involving the Peel watershed planning process, is set to be heard by the Supreme Court of Canada next year.
“Unfortunately, we had to go to that extent in order to get our rights recognized. So I’m really hoping that… in regards to the Liberal government, that we’ll have the ability to come to the table.”
Johnston is not the only one who seems hopeful that better relationships will develop between the government and First Nations.
Kwanlin Dun First Nation Chief Doris Bill was at the Liberals’ celebration on election day.
She credited outgoing premier Darrell Pasloski with working hard for his constituents in the Mountainview riding, which includes Kwanlin Dun settlement land, but said he had problems with broader First Nations issues.
“I’m really hoping that… we don’t end up in the courts anymore. That’s one thing that Sandy Silver had talked about,” she said.
“There’s some important issues that we have on the table and I’m going to be really interested to see how he’s going to handle those.”
Contact Ashley Joannou at firstname.lastname@example.org