Fragile First Nation YTG relations

HELEN’S FISH CAMP One voice at the Yukon Forum has been dominating the other, says the Council of Yukon First Nations.


One voice at the Yukon Forum has been dominating the other, says the Council of Yukon First Nations.

“Leaders are telling us that the Yukon forums have been one-sided going towards one agenda,” said its grand chief Andy Carvill, who was elected to a second term Tuesday.

“There were a couple instances of wanting to move our agenda, and unfortunately we encountered difficulty around that.”

Important First Nations’ concerns have been ignored, and past forums haven’t addressed the issues CYFN and its members wanted to discuss with the Yukon government, he said.

This time, CYFN plans to meet more regularly with the premier before the meeting to hammer out an acceptable agenda.

Health and social issues, such as a treatment centre, are top CYFN priorities.

Carvill’s comments came after Premier Dennis Fentie’s Thursday morning address to the CYFN general assembly at Helen’s Fish Camp on Lake Laberge.

Fentie also confirmed August 19 as the date for a landmark tri-lateral meeting with Ottawa, the territory and Yukon First Nations, to be held in Whitehorse after the forum.

An agenda for the tri-government meeting has not been set, but money for implementation is expected to be a major issue.

A nine-year review of the self-government agreements determined Ottawa’s implementation investment is inadequate, said Fentie in an interview with reporters.

“There are national policies that are inconsistent with the obligations of the government, agreed to under Yukon land-claim, self-government and final agreements,” he said.

Applying pressure would do more harm than good, added Fentie.

He suggested a collaborative approach would help to advance Yukon interests.

 “Let us demonstrate accountability … and from that point we can make our case,” said Fentie.

The Yukon Forum is supposed to bring the territory, CYFN’s grand chief and chiefs of self-governing First Nations together four times a year.

Because the parties have jurisdiction over similar matters, the forum is used to address concerns and problems arising from the awkward situation.

“It’s incumbent on us as First Nation leaders to make sure our agendas come to the forefront, especially at the Yukon Forum,” said Carvill.

The Yukon Forum has led to successful working groups on legislative issues like education reform and natural resources, he added.

Tense, however, seems to be the default position in government relations with First Nations.

Though the relationship is workable and has recently improved, said Carvill.

“We had some successful meetings in Ottawa, recently, and I look forward to continue to work with (Fentie) to have him help us lobby,” he said.

Both sides learned lessons from the battle over the new Child and Family Services Act.

“We spent a number of years working on it; unfortunately, at the end, the government decided to move on it and there were several outstanding issues,” said Carvill.

The new corrections act, a major overhaul of corrections in the Yukon, will retest these fragile relations.

The government has a constructive working relationship with CYFN and all First Nations, said Fentie.

“There are times when, bi-laterally, there are disagreements,” he said.

But respecting First Nations jurisdictions as defined by the self-government agreements has been a cornerstone of intergovernmental relations, he added.

The correctional reform legislation could be introduced in the near future.

The government hopes the legislation, which drew on First Nation contributors, will have an easier ride becoming law than past legislative reforms.

First Nations protested against the Child and Family Services Act introduced last spring because some felt it centralized too much power within government.

The government capitulated and added an independent child’s advocate at the last minute.

“These initiatives are things that have languished for years under past governments,” said Fentie.

“It’s this government that’s shown the intestinal fortitude and demonstrated the will and commitment to address deficiencies in (Yukon legislation).”

Carvill wants to sit down with the premier and the three Yukon First Nations without self-government agreements to develop plans for lobbying Ottawa on the health and social issues arising from each community, including adequate housing, safe drinking water, education, employment and reserve status, which would allow the First Nations to collect taxes from settlement land.

“We will work with those First Nations to ensure Canada meets its obligations to Liard, Ross River and White River,” said Fentie.