Yukon’s 11 self-governing First Nations should have new funding agreements by April, says Chuck Strahl, minister of Indian and Northern Affairs.
Strahl made the announcement in Haines Junction on Wednesday, after meeting with First Nation chiefs and Grand Chief Andy Carvill.
The talks are a big deal for First Nations, who blame much of their capacity problems on a lack of funding from Ottawa.
Yukon’s First Nations are currently expected to deliver local services to residents with about one-third of the funding that is used by the Yukon territorial government, said Diane Strand, chief of the Champagne/Aishihik First Nation.
She calls this imbalance “grossly” disproportionate, considering that First Nations are expected to deliver services on par with the rest of Canada.
But reaching a new agreement hasn’t been easy.
Similar negotiations fell through last year, resulting in a one-year extension of funding arrangements that had been struck one decade ago.
To break the impasse, talks this year have taken a narrower focus on ensuring that First Nation offices are adequately staffed, and excluding more complicated questions surrounding how much money is required to deliver services related to such things as education, health and housing.
For Ottawa to meet its April deadline, major negotiations would have to be complete by November, said Strahl.
Strahl’s talks coincided with a meeting of the Yukon Forum – a gathering of First Nation chiefs and Premier Dennis Fentie.
Though the forum was once dismissed by chiefs as little more than a feel-good publicity exercise, chiefs left the forum feeling encouraged by the willingness of Fentie to discuss their concerns, such as the difficulties First Nations face in meeting deadlines to provide feedback on proposed legislation, said Strand.
They also discussed the new northern economic development agency announced by Prime Minister Stephen Harper earlier this year, which is based in Iqaluit, Nunavut, and will have branch offices in Yellowknife and Whitehorse.
Yukon’s chiefs want an oversight committee, with representation from First Nations and the territorial government, that would vet the spending decisions of the new organization to ensure its projects will benefit the territory, said Strand.
“It will work if it’s from the bottom-up,” she said of the agency.
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