Like a couple groping around at the beginning of a romance, the relationship between the territory and Yukon First Nations has its up and downs, says Andy Carville.
“The relationship continues to evolve and, at times, it gets tumultuous — it’s growing pains,” said the Council of Yukon First Nations grand chief.
“It doesn’t matter what government is in power. We had the same issues with the Liberal government. It’s the willingness of the government of the day to sit down with First Nations governments and treat them with respect.”
Carville attended the opening of the legislature’s fall session. There, one topic dominated the day.
MLAs uttered the phrase First Nations 70 times yesterday, usually attached to the words ‘consult’ or ‘consultation’, both of which were mentioned 34 times.
The two opposition parties introduced two motions urging an improvement in government policies towards First Nations.
“The agreements that the government signs must be met, not just put in a book somewhere and stored on a shelf,” said Liberal leader Arthur Mitchell in question period.
“Acts brought forward should not just be something to read and then forget. If government signs agreements, it should abide by them.”
The government must conduct a legal review of what rights First Nations have within the Porcupine Caribou Management Agreement, said Liberal Darius Elias.
Earlier this month, the government removed a ban on hunting the Porcupine caribou herd within a 500-metre corridor along the Dempster Highway.
That provoked an emergency meeting between Fentie and three First Nation chiefs.
Removing the ban was disrespectful towards First Nations, said Mitchell.
The disagreement over hunting regulations was between First Nations, not the government, he said.
The premier said he could list “page after page after page” of examples of how his government’s relationship with First Nations is improving daily.
“In this territory, relationship-building and the relationship between the public government and First Nation governments in the Yukon have improved significantly,” said Fentie.
“Ignoring existing laws, such as the Environment Act, does not build a good relationship,” said Mitchell. “Ignoring letters and requests from First Nations does not build a good relationship.”
Carville entered the legislature after the session had started, and most MLAs tracked his progress as he made his way to a seat in the gallery.
Mitchell immediately rose to publicly welcome him to the house.
While he supports opposition recommendations, his office will have to study them, he said.
“Just like any agreement, including treaties, they are not set in stone,” said Carville after the house adjourned.
“If there are areas for improvement in these agreements, then I support what the Liberals and NDP brought forward.”
NDP leader Todd Hardy put forward a motion calling on the government to amend the Co-operation in Governance Act to include annual formal meetings between First Nation leaders and MLAs.
The proceedings would then be made public, said Hardy.
NDP MLA Steve Cardiff also suggested the government hold two evening meetings in the legislature every week to hear about challenges faced by First Nation and other people living in poverty.
In question period, Hardy asked if the premier believes Ottawa has not met its financial obligations to final agreement implementation.
A recent nine-year review of implementation states Ottawa is signing agreements and then failing to live up to them, said Fentie.
The government will be discussing these issues at a November 5 intergovernmental forum in Whitehorse, he said.
Mitchell said the absence of the premier and his ministers at the CYFN general assembly in August symbolizes the strained relationship with First Nations.
“Just to point out another example of why we must be careful of what the leader of the Official Opposition brings to the floor of the House, I wasn’t at the last general assembly either,” said Fentie.
The deputy premier attended the 2006 general assembly.
“No comment,” said Carville, when asked about Fentie’s absence and its significance.
Next week, the Liberals plan on introducing amendments to the Co-operation in Governance Act to enshrine the accountability of consultation.
“Since (Fentie) can’t seem to consult on his own, let’s make it the law,” said Mitchell. “I know it’s already the law, but it seems to be ignored.”
The Liberals don’t understand what consultation means, said Fentie.
“What is the educational reform process if it’s not consultation? What is the northern housing trust investment plan if it’s not consultation? What are amendments to the Wildlife Act pursuant to our obligations under the Umbrella Final Agreement if it’s not consultation?” he said, going on to list more examples.