On Saturday, Indian and Northern Affairs Minister Jim Prentice and seven Yukon chiefs inked a deal with Ottawa for interim money for early-adopters of land claims.
The agreement, which was not provided to reporters, provides an undisclosed amount of money over the next two years to seven Yukon First Nations that were the first to sign self-government deals under the umbrella final agreement.
It was created to address funding shortfalls while CYFN, the Yukon government and Ottawa work to finalize a new funding relationship, said a CYFN official.
Grand chief Andy Carvill and other officials made it clear to Prentice that Yukon First Nations demand a more direct relationship with Ottawa when it comes to the distribution of federal dollars earmarked for them.
Prentice seems to have received the message.
“We do have a direct fiscal relationship between the government of Canada and First Nations,” he said, after the meeting.
“Now, not every single program dollar that the government of Canada delivers is delivered in that fashion, but, for the most part, what the government of Canada does in terms of aboriginal programs and services, which are about $9 billion dollars in total, are administered through direct grants, not through an intervening party.”
The issue became heated last year when the Yukon government received a $50-million cheque from Ottawa that was originally believed to be coming directly to Yukon First Nations.
The $50 million was ostensibly created to help address health and safety issues in First Nations housing in the Yukon.
But the Yukon government will use a $17.5-million chunk for its own housing programs.
It will also apply conditions on the remaining $32.5 million handed aboriginal governments.
“The solution is to have everybody at the table talking,” said Prentice. “The money was delivered to the public governments. They were always intended to be that way.”
While some chiefs feel Yukon First Nations should have received the full $50 million, Vuntut Gwitchin chief Joe Linklater said the issue is “water under the bridge.”
Still, he’s hoping Ottawa begins to honour self-government agreements by sending money directly their way.
“As self-governing First Nations, we want to have control of aboriginal money in the Yukon,” said Linklater.
“I think as a matter of an old process they sometimes funnel money to the territorial government and the territorial government has to decide on how it’s going to be expended,” he said.
“It leaves the territorial government in a very awkward situation as well, so I think that’s something we can all work on.
“What we want is for that money to come directly to First Nations.”
Prentice was in Whitehorse to attend the closing of the Canada Winter Games and to meet with Premier Dennis Fentie.
But just as Health Minister Tony Clement had done two weeks earlier during his visit to Whitehorse, Prentice put aside an hour to meet with First Nations.
He emerged from the meeting committed to what he called a new “G3” government relationship in the territory.
“We can only move forward if we have all three levels of government talking at the table together,” he said.
“The importance of an intergovernmental forum that I’d like to see happen this summer — that would bring together the territorial government, the government of Canada and the Council of Yukon First Nations — (is that) we can sit at a common table and talk about issues that are of joint concern to all three levels of government.”
Prentice and CYFN also spoke about getting land-claim negotiations with Liard First Nation and Ross River Dena Council back on track.
But issues surrounding White River First Nation were not discussed, he said.
Carvill avoided reporters after the meeting, as did other chiefs.
But Carvill’s speaking notes detail CYFN’s main concerns that it must have a seat at negotiating tables for any decisions that affect its members.
According to the notes, CYFN told Prentice that Fentie does not speak for Yukon First Nations.