First Nations flail Fentie for inaction

After taking a drubbing this past week over apparent plans to privatize Yukon's public utility, Premier Dennis Fentie probably hoped that controversy would not dog him to Dawson City, where he is hosting the Western Premiers

After taking a drubbing this past week over apparent plans to privatize Yukon’s public utility, Premier Dennis Fentie probably hoped that controversy would not dog him to Dawson City, where he is hosting the Western Premiers’ Conference.

No such luck.

“The premier’s always given us lip service to the general public. But he doesn’t walk the talk,” said Chief Ruth Massie of the Ta’an Kwach’an Council, speaking on the phone from Dawson on Thursday.

“We want to work together. The premier’s always stated he wants to work in the best interests of everyone, and so forth. But with individual First Nations, he’s always, ‘It’s my way or the highway.’ And you can’t work like that.”

She’s speaking on behalf of a coalition of four First Nations, which have most recently ratified land claim deals.

Unhappy with what they describe as a widening gulf between Fentie’s words and his actions, they held a press conference in Dawson on Thursday to express their discontent.

Offering support to the coalition was grand chief Andy Carvill of the Council of Yukon First Nations.

“We know when the premier at various meetings in Ottawa, talks about the great relationships he has with Yukon First Nations. We know he’s telling the premiers the same thing,” Carvill said of Fentie.

“He may have a good relationship with some First Nations. But some are still at odds. You just need to look at what’s going on with Little Salmon/Carmacks and the court case they’re engaged in.”

The First Nation and the Yukon government are in a protracted court battle over the territory’s decision to grant an agricultural lease without consulting the First Nation.

The recent passage of a law to create a child advocate’s office is another sore point, said Carvill.

“We weren’t included in that process when we were told we would be, that we would be engaged. We weren’t engaged at all,” he said.

“We were definitely consulted, but we were not accommodated, whatsoever, in the whole process,” said Massie.

Yukon’s First Nations with settled land claims are considered governments by law. Yet money they receive from Ottawa continues to be funnelled through the territory.

Fentie has agreed this is a problem, but he won’t apply pressure on Ottawa to change the arrangement, the coalition says.

The Education Department claims to be in near-perpetual consultation with First Nations. Yet First Nations are denied real control over the school system, said Massie.

When the Kluane First Nation proposed to put a school in Burwash Landing, the territorial government shot them down.

“We should be, as self-governing First Nations, looking after our own families and children,” said Massie.

A three-page press release heaped further scorn on Fentie’s leadership style.

“Fentie should understand better than most the importance of respect and co-operation,” said Kluane Chief Wilfred Sheldon in the release. “It was his predecessors that led the fight for the territories to be included with the provinces at premiers’ and first ministers’ meetings, rather than be left sitting outside in the hallway,” he said.

“Even today, while treated as an equal by provincial premiers, Fentie is still referred to under federal protocol as ‘leader’ rather than ‘premier,’ to note a lesser standing,” said Sheldon.

“We pay taxes; we are governments responsible for all people in our jurisdictions,” said Kwanlin Dun Chief Mike Smith. “It is time we were shown the same recognition, respect and co-operation that Premier Fentie and his predecessors have struggled for years to win, so that we can implement our agreements, secure adequate funding and provide the services our people deserve, including the protection of their language and culture,” said Smith.

Hammond Dick, tribal chief of the Kaska Nation, joined the melee. “Our fellow First Nations expect to be treated with respect,” he said in the release. “Until we see that happening, is it any wonder we continue to be in the courts regarding our rights, title and interests?”

The Yukon Forum, set up to allow regular meetings between First Nations and the territorial government, “has proven mostly ineffective and more symbolic than a body that actually generates actions,” states the release.

The coalition is calling on Fentie to create a group of senior government staff who would follow-through on the forum’s decisions with government action.

Contact John Thompson at

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Wyatt’s World

Wyatt’s World for March 5, 2021.

Yukonomist: School competition ramps up in the Yukon

It’s common to see an upstart automaker trying to grab share from… Continue reading

The Yukon government responded to a petition calling the SCAN Act “draconian” on Feb. 19. (Yukon News file)
Yukon government accuses SCAN petitioner of mischaracterizing her eviction

A response to the Jan. 7 petition was filed to court on Feb. 19

City councillor Samson Hartland in Whitehorse on Dec. 3, 2018. Hartland has announced his plans to run for mayor in the Oct. 21 municipal election. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Councillor sets sights on mayor’s chair

Hartland declares election plans

Whitehorse RCMP will provide internet safety training due to an uptick of child luring offences. (iStock photo)
RCMP hosting internet safety webinars for parents and caregivers

The webinars will take place on March 23 and 25

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley receives his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine from Public Health Nurse Angie Bartelen at the Yukon Convention Centre Clinic in Whitehorse on March 3. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
State of emergency extended for another 90 days

“Now we’re in a situation where we see the finish line.”

The Yukon government says it is working towards finding a solution for Dawson area miners who may be impacted by City of Dawson plans and regulations. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Miner expresses frustration over town plan

Designation of claims changed to future planning

Team Yukon athletes wave flags at the 2012 Arctic Winter Games opening ceremony in Whitehorse. The 2022 event in Wood Buffalo, Alta., has been postponed indefinitely. (Justin Kennedy/Yukon News file)
2022 Arctic Winter Games postponed indefinitely

Wood Buffalo, Alta., Host Society committed to rescheduling at a later date

Crews work to clear the South Klondike Highway after an avalanche earlier this week. (Submitted)
South Klondike Highway remains closed due to avalanches

Yukon Avalanche Association recommending backcountry recreators remain vigilant

RCMP Online Crime Reporting website in Whitehorse on March 5. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Whitehorse RCMP launch online crime reporting

Both a website and Whitehorse RCMP app are now available

A man walks passed the polling place sign at city hall in Whitehorse on Oct. 18, 2018. The City of Whitehorse is preparing for a pandemic-era election this October with a number of measures proposed to address COVID-19 restrictions. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
City gets set for Oct. 21 municipal election

Elections procedures bylaw comes forward

A rendering of the Normandy Manor seniors housing facility. (Photo courtesy KBC Developments)
Work on seniors housing project moves forward

Funding announced for Normandy Manor

Tom Ullyett, pictured, is the first Yukoner to receive the Louis St-Laurent Award of Excellence from the Canadian Bar Association for his work as a community builder and mentor in the territory. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)
Tom Ullyett wins lifetime achievement award from the Canadian Bar Association

Ullyett has worked in the Yukon’s justice ecosystem for 36 years as a public sector lawyer and mentor

Most Read