The Council of Yukon First Nations 26th general assembly saw several issues raised and much political progress made.
Along with a landmark border agreement between two First Nations that could serve as a template for future deals between First Nation governments, CYFN is more unified than before, said grand chief Andy Carvill, at last week’s assembly.
“I’m very optimistic there’s going to be a new, re-invigorated CYFN,” he said.
And recently, meetings between Carvill and local First Nations chiefs have focused on a massive reorganization of the council, he said.
“We’re starting to lay out some ground rules with respect to how we’re going to change things within CYFN internally and tighten up the operation to allow us to be more effective in being the political advocate and the voice for Yukon First Nation governments.”
Fittingly, several issues were brought to the forefront at the assembly. Here’s a taste.
Outfitter policy blasted
The CYFN is opposed to the Yukon government’s new big game outfitting policy, which proposes giving operators tenure to wild land they use.
A resolution denouncing it and calling on the government to re-examine the policy passed unanimously at the assembly.
“The policy is not a good one,” said Carvill.
“Our records don’t show there has been thorough consultation, with respect to its development.”
The resolution urges the government to “immediately abandon” the policy, because it has “negatively impacted on our aboriginal and treaty rights, including rights pursuant to our final agreements and our interests in our traditional territories and on our ability to govern and manage our lands and resources.”
Carvill has sent a letter, representing the majority of CYFN members, outlining their opposition to the policy to Premier Dennis Fentie, he said.
“My office is still waiting for a response to my letter.
“The mandate that I’m receiving from this general assembly with respect to that policy is that we are going to oppose this, by any legal means necessary,” said Carvill.
Land claims minister
Liberal leader Arthur Mitchell was in campaign mode at the general assembly.
If the Liberals form the next territorial government, they will create a new land claims implementation minister, he said.
The new member of cabinet would be given full resources and senior staff, he added.
“We must do a better job on implementing the agreements,” said Mitchell.
“Too often the government only does the bare minimum. We are all in this together.”
While the idea seems like a good one, making it work efficiently and preventing it from becoming another layer of bureaucracy could be difficult, said Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation chief Joe Linklater.
“If we create a department for implementation, then we further segregate out aboriginal issues from all the other issues within the Justice department, health and education,” said Linklater.
The idea may not work, “unless you give that department authority over these other departments, which I really don’t see happening,” he said.
“It’s going to be interesting to see how he develops that concept as the election goes on.”
Eleven of the 14 Yukon First Nations have a land claim and self-government agreement.
Tr’ondek Hwech’in chief Darren Taylor waded into the race-based fisheries debate at the CYFN assembly — but only just.
Last month, Prime Minister Stephen Harper wrote to the Calgary Herald denouncing “racially divided” commercial fisheries in Canada — specifically a British Columbia fishery that sees aboriginal fishers given special rights.
“In the coming months, we will strike a judicial inquiry into the collapse of the Fraser River salmon fishery and oppose racially divided fisheries programs,” wrote Harper.
While several aboriginal leaders were outraged, Taylor is not.
“I take it with a grain of salt,” said Taylor, at the assembly.
“I don’t think it’s a race-based issue. I think it’s just the politicians again, and the media trying to blow things out of proportion.
“In my view it’s not about race, it’s a rights-based issue,” said Taylor.
There are several commercial fisheries in the Yukon, including one on Tr’ondek Hwech’in traditional territory.
Thus a bigger concern for Taylor is the recent Chinook fishery.
It was built on inadequate stocks, he said.
Eagle Alaska, which sees fish pass in the Yukon River before they arrive in Dawson had a count of 13,000 (Chinook) salmon, said Taylor.
“If it’s under 19,000 the commercial fishery is supposed to be closed, but they continued to open up the fishery.
“We think as self-governing First Nations and as managers of fish and wildlife in our traditional territory, we weren’t adequately consulted.”
A chief from the Northwest Territories is calling on governments to improve the “unsafe” Dempster Highway.
Five people, including one Muslim leader from Whitehorse, died in a crash on the highway last week.
Out of respect for the tragedy, Tetlit Gwich’in chief Johnny Kay refused to link the accident with his call for Dempster improvements.
But to attend the CYFN assembly, Kay had to drive the Dempster from his home in Fort McPherson.
“A lot of times you can’t see what’s coming around the corner because the trees are blocking your way,” said Kay.
“Right now, the Yukon side really needs to be worked on.”
Trees and foliage crowding the road need to be cut back as they have been on the Alaska Highway, said Kay.
“When you go up the Dempster Highway, we get to see first hand the road condition.
“Its safety is a concern,” he said.