HELEN’S FISH CAMP
It’s confusing, all of it.
The Council of Yukon First Nations doesn’t know what it’s supposed to be now that self-government agreements are signed.
A restructuring process, a result of CYFN’s limbo, is a lengthy, esoteric procedure.
Member First Nations can’t decide what role CYFN should play in advancing individual agendas.
Even the CYFN grand chief title is confusing, some say.
Though one thing is certain, said Vuntut Gwitchin Chief Joe Linklater at the CYFN general assembly. “We will never delegate authority to CYFN,” he said.
“We’re responsible for our own people, and we’ll never give that up.”
The general assembly, consisting of Yukon First Nation chiefs and delegates, discussed a CYFN restructuring report at Helen’s Fish Camp at Lake Laberge Thursday.
The council was established to guide First Nations through self-government negotiations.
CYFN has languished, rudderless in a sea of politics, since most of its member nations signed those agreements, some more than a decade ago.
Should it be a political organization, essentially a lobby group, voicing opinions for First Nations?
Or should it be a central authority that houses and governs legislation common to its member nations?
The report, a vision statement compiled from a retreat with chiefs and select citizens, recommends CYFN should be a central authority.
Establishing CYFN as a governing body would be a misstep, said Linklater.
It should be like the United Nations, a place where members gather to discuss common affairs, applying pressure when needed.
“CYFN doesn’t have land or people,” said Linklater.
One can see the problems manifested in something like the title of CYFN grand chief, he added.
“To have (someone with) the title of grand chief go to Ottawa and presume to represent a community is misleading,” said Linklater.
“I put the blame on the title, not the grand chief. The title should be ‘chair,’ because the grand chief chairs meetings of autonomous or semi-autonomous nations.”
It’s time to strip down CYFN to its core and rebuild, said Linklater.
“We need to have the courage to disband the organization and come back together revitalized,” he said.
As a political organization — not a program administrator — CYFN “has the ability to generate massive political capital.”
During Linklater’s initial comments, an attempt was made to move the discussion in camera, which would remove all non delegates from the meeting.
Linklater refused the move.
“This is something our people need to hear,” he said.
“I have no problem talking about this in front of the world.”
The in-camera question was put to chiefs and delegates, the majority of whom voted to keep the meeting open.
The media was not provided copies of the restructuring report, but snippets of it were pasted to a display in a trade-show tent.
The draft mission statement suggests CYFN has a role to play in advocacy and education on behalf of First Nations, the protection of land and resources and support of final and self-government agreements.
It also recommends CYFN can “develop template legislation, regulations and policies that empower First Nations.”
CYFN could help the First Nations develop legislation based on laws already established by others, said Carcross/Tagish First Nation Chief Mark Wedge.
“What happens now, child protection services goes to Yukon government and there’s no reason that can’t be transferred to a central authority like CYFN,” he said.
Programming needs to be dealt with at the community level, but it might not make sense to administer some locally.
“The question, then, is how do the communities have direct impact on those programs,” said Wedge.
“That can be through a central organization that gives direction on what those programs look like.”
But some First Nations are more financially secure than others and have more capacity for administration.
First Nations should always have a choice of how to best administer programs and develop legislation, said Wedge.
He envisions a system like the financial transfer agreements between Canada and its provinces.
“In those areas where First Nations have different strength — some are haves and have nots — it could work through some form of regional governance,” he said.
Carcross/Tagish is developing its own child and family services legislation.
If CYFN gets the mandate to administer common legislation like child and family services, it has a stronger voice when negotiating with governments, said CYFN grand chief Andy Carvill.
“Then we can pound on Ottawa’s door … and we need some of the funding coming over to First Nation governments,” said Carvill.
At the end of the discussion, he committed to a meeting with the chiefs in the near future to establish a technical restructuring team.
Linklater suggested a special general assembly to set the direction of the organization. The assembly agreed to this, though no date was set.