Elder payments reviewed

The future of a program that gives elders a monthly cheque is being debated by members of the Tr'ondek Hwech'in First Nation.

The future of a program that gives elders a monthly cheque is being debated by members of the Tr’ondek Hwech’in First Nation.

At last weekend’s general assembly, the decision was made to discuss whether the monthly stipend represents the best use of the government’s money.

There is only one other self-governing First Nation in the territory that has ended this monthly payment.

The Carcross/Tagish First Nations were the only aboriginal government that didn’t sign a taxation agreement alongside their land claim agreement.

It is that tax agreement that provides for these monthly elders’ cheques.

Without it, Carcross/Tagish citizens still have to pay taxes – like all other self-governing First Nation citizens – but the government does not receive an annual $150,000 from Ottawa, like every other First Nation does.

Carcross/Tagish are still trying to negotiate an “elders’ benefit” into the tax agreement before they sign it, government officials said.

And they want more control over taxes so they can use it as a tool for social policy, meaning they want to be able to grant exemptions and benefits for activities, like language courses, for example.

Right now, the tax agreement with Canada does not allow that, they said.

And they are holding out until they can convince Canada to agree.

There is also the concern Ottawa will reduce pension payments if the seniors claim a higher income.

And it is true the Guaranteed Income Supplement, an additional stipend for low-income seniors, is reduced by $1 for every $2 of income, Service Canada officials said.

That perversity factor is why the First Nations refuse to offer a monthly cheque to their seniors, said Chief Mark Wedge of the Carcross/Tagish First Nations.

But seniors will still receive the supplement, on top of their old-age security pension, unless their income is more than $3,500.

And every other self-governing First Nation in the territory offers elders a monthly cheque.

“Each First Nation is different,” said Council of Yukon First Nations Grand Chief Ruth Massie. “Some First Nations don’t have any money to give to their citizens, never mind just the elders, so they try to provide services through programming. It isn’t like any First Nation doesn’t want to give to their elders. They want to. Whether it’s affordable is another thing.”

This is especially true for the unsigned First Nations: Liard, White River and the Ross River Dena Council.

When asked if they provided monthly cheques for their elders, all three First Nations admitted they can’t afford such a program.

But all three support their elders in other ways, by providing a fuel allowance and services, like water, waste disposal and firewood.

Many of the 11 signed First Nations provide those services as well as the monthly cheques.

Carcross/Tagish do haul garbage, deliver water, pump sewers, and each elder receives a $500 Christmas bonus.

But Mary Huebschwelen, a 71-year-old Carcross citizen, says it is not enough.

She needs more help with fuel, medical bills, and home renovations.

Plus she still wants that monthly cheque – she wants what she used to get.

Negotiating land claims took some First Nations nearly 30 years. It was a very long process. And it was a process many elders worked at every single day. But there was no money to pay them.

All the First Nations agreed to give their elders a benefit until final agreements were signed, Massie said.

It was a monthly cheque of $200.

It came right from the negotiation loans the First Nations were borrowing from Canada.

For the negotiation process, those First Nation loans came to about $100 million, plus six per cent interest, said Massie.

For many individual First Nations, this meant their loan of around $2 million cost them nearly $12 million over 15 years, she said.

For the White River First Nation, they realized they would owe more than they would be getting by signing their land claim, which was a large factor in why they never signed it, added Massie.

Once final agreements were signed, however, the choice to continue a monthly cheque became the decision and responsibility of each First Nation, she said.

“It was not a be-all, end-all and it was up to the First Nation whether they continued or they didn’t,” said Massie. “Going forward, when First Nations can afford to pass on monetary benefits to their citizens, they will. There’s going to come a day when First Nations actually have own-source revenues to share with their citizens, beyond programs and services.”

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at

roxannes@yukon-news.com

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