Premier Dennis Fentie sat stony-faced as Eddie Taylor, chief of the Tr’ondek Hwech’in First Nation, asked that the territory “go further” in its co-operation with First Nation governments.
It was hardly biting criticism. But the remark, made before a room full of territorial dignitaries during a special sitting of the legislature on Friday, clearly irked Fentie.
When Taylor finished his speech, almost everyone in the room clapped.
Taylor didn’t elaborate in his speech, but his First Nation has asked Yukon’s Education Department to give them a say in how Dawson’s school is run.
Fat chance, they say they’re told: if you don’t like how things are run, by all means draw down education powers and take the responsibility off our hands.
Such hard-nosed bargaining is in sharp contrast to the rhetoric of Education Minister Patrick Rouble, who frequently refers to working with First Nations as partners.
Taylor was addressing a room full of Yukon’s territorial politicians, past and present, who had gathered in the old administrative building to celebrate the centenary of representative government in the territory.
One hundred years ago, Yukoners voted in their first wholly elected council, a body that preceded today’s legislative assembly.
Yet Yukon’s First Nations were far from lawless before the arrival of gold rush stampeders and Mounties, Taylor noted.
“This place was governed for thousands and thousands of years by our Tr’ondek Hwech’in nation,” he said.
Taylor wasn’t the only one to make the point that the story of Yukon’s development is more complicated than the struggle to pry power away from bureaucrats in Ottawa.
It’s also a story of First Nations trying to persuade territorial officials to share power. And that struggle is far from over.
Last year the Yukon government was dragged into court on two occasions by First Nations, noted Eric Fairclough, the Liberal MLA for Mayo-Tatchun.
Fairclough also lamented that four of Yukon’s 14 First Nations are still waiting for land claim deals to be finalized—although the job of settling land claims belongs to Ottawa, not the territory.
Yet great strides have been made by First Nations, said Marian Horne, who marvelled over what her grandmother would think to know that a First Nation woman like herself is now MLA for her riding of Pelly-Nisutlin.
Women got the right to vote in Canada in 1919. Suffrage was only extended to First Nations in 1960.
Friday’s special sitting was held in the same wood-panelled room where the territorial council met up until 1952, when the capital moved to Whitehorse.
Dawsonites, such as MLA Steve Nordick and Mayor John Steins, joked wistfully that the capital should return. The rest in the room humoured them.
All members were present, sans Archie Lang, MLA for Porter Creek Centre.
A dozen former MLAs joined them: Jack Cable, Dale Eftoda, Mickey Fisher, Peter Jenkins, Ken McKinnon, Chris Pearson, Tony Penekitt, Doug Phillips, Don Roberts, Ron Veale, Art Webster and Jim McLachlan.
Also present was former commissioner Jim Smith.
Each MLA spent five minutes speaking to a motion that was as uncontroversial as they get, which proposed to celebrate 100 years of representative government in the Yukon.
No wonder minds quickly turned to more pressing affairs. Like hockey.
When Vuntut Gwitchin MLA Darius Elias counted his blessings, he wisecracked that “I’d be remiss to not mention day seven of the Stanley Cup finals.”
The applause and cheers that followed were the liveliest part of the affair.
The event cost $40,000.
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