Doris Bill, the chief of Kwanlin Dün First Nation, at an announcement in Whitehorse on Nov. 28. Bill says she wants to see more federal funding going directly to Yukon communities. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)

First Nations funding, housing top-of-mind at meetings in Ottawa

Turning Yukon College into a university was also discussed

The gulf between how much funding Yukon First Nations receive from Ottawa compared to reserves has been brought to the attention of federal ministers by a delegation of territorial leaders this week.

Doris Bill, the chief of Kwanlin Dün First Nation, said she wants money to go directly to communities.

“Many times when programs and funding … are announced, it’s geared towards on-reserve people, and often Yukon First Nations will get left out because we, of course, are not on-reserve,” she said during a phone conference from Ottawa. “Sometimes, you know, (federal ministers) are even surprised that we actually get left out of certain things. Nobody is going to get that point across but us, so that’s why we’re here.”

Premier Sandy Silver, accompanied by Council of Yukon First Nations Grand Chief Peter Johnston, Bill and others are in the capital this week to draw further attention to the distinct needs of the territory, including the prospect of giving Yukon College university status.

Housing in self-governing First Nations was another topic.

The national plan to alleviate housing pressure in First Nations is geared towards those that fall under the Indian Act, Bill said.

“We need a separate process for that, and the minister, I believe, has committed to working on that with First Nations,” she said.

When self-government agreements were established, housing wasn’t part of the equation to a degree, Johnson said.

“We’re only getting two houses per year, obviously when our housing demands are much more” than that, he said.

Silver, too, said the federal plan doesn’t appear to support “the unique off-reserve governance context in the Yukon.”

While he said he believes Jane Philpott, minister of Indigenous Services, is interested in making adjustments in order to fit the needs of the Yukon, time is limited.

“The federal government is in negotiations for their budget,” Silver said. “That’s why we decided to change the timing of these meetings to early December, as opposed to the New Year, because we know that these issues are now identified as priorities in the Yukon. It’s up to the ministers now to advocate in caucus discussions on budget to actually put the dollar values on the line items. We’re hoping we hear solutions sooner than later.”

A tri-lateral committee composed of federal, First Nations and territorial leaders to develop a solution to housing needs has been pitched, Silver said.

“That was met very positively by the minister responsible,” he said.

Silver called Yukon First Nations trailblazers when it comes to negotiating treaties in North America.

That, however, has come at a cost.

In going through the process of crafting modern treaties, “Yukon First Nations have incurred over $100 million in loans and interest over those three decades to negotiate that. We’re thankful for a federal government recognizing the importance of negotiating these treaties, but, at the same time, what are they going to do to understand the importance of the trailblazers that we have in the Yukon?”

The prospect of making Yukon College a university — and securing the federal funds to do so — has also been discussed with federal counterparts.

It was pointed out to Dominic Leblanc, minister of Northern Affairs, that supporting the concept would be a step towards reconciliation, Silver said.

“We’re posing this to the federal government as a means to the ends of their federal mandate,” he said. “As far as checking off boxes goes, as far as Canada 150 and for reconciliation, look no further to the Yukon university for cold climate innovation, for working with Indigenous populations, for governance structures, as the federal government turns towards self-governing for all of Canada,” he said, noting that over 50 First Nations bands are interested in undergoing the governance change.

Citizens of Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation were in Ottawa, too, including chief-elect Dana Tizya-Tramm. A reception was organized that included a panel discussion about what’s playing out the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) with the Porcupine caribou herd.

Assembly of First Nations Chief Perry Bellegarde, MP Larry Bagnell and Yukon Environment Minister Pauline Frost attended, among others.

The News reported last week that one proposal has been received by the Bureau of Land Management to locate oil reserves in the costal plains of ANWR.

No decision has been made yet, but a departmental spokesperson had said a draft environmental impact statement could be completed this month.

The first step of opening up the refuge to oil extraction happened almost one year ago, when the Trump administration slipped a provision into a tax bill.

“I would like to see ANWR left as is, untouched,” Bill said. “This is one of the last great wilderness areas left in the world, and we need to preserve it, not only for conservation, but the preservation of the people.

“We are well aware of what is happening with ANWR and we are keeping the political pressure where it needs to be.”

Silver said the situation at the refuge wasn’t identified as a discussion point with the federal government.

“We can’t speak on any updates from the federal government right now, as far as that goes,” he said.

The delegation was in Ottawa Dec. 3 and 4.

On Dec. 7, Premier Sandy Silver will be in Montreal for the First Ministers’ Meeting.

Contact Julien Gignac at julien.gignac@yukon-news.com

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