Grand chief ‘optimistic’ about Yukon Forum under new Liberal government

Council of Yukon First Nations Grand Chief Peter Johnston and Yukon Premier Sandy Silver have announced that a Yukon Forum between the new Liberal government and First Nation chiefs will take place Jan. 13 in Whitehorse.

Council of Yukon First Nations Grand Chief Peter Johnston and Yukon Premier Sandy Silver have announced that a Yukon Forum between the new Liberal government and First Nation chiefs will take place Jan. 13 in Whitehorse.

The Yukon Forum will be the first for Johnston and Silver in their new roles. Johnston was acclaimed as grand chief last spring, while Silver was elected premier in November.

“The first forum will be based on building that relationship and setting the priorities going forward,” Johnston told the News. “We’re just going to set the tone differently, and set the bar high.”

The former Yukon Party government held the Yukon Forum just three times after its election in 2011, most recently in April 2016. The party was often accused of being tonedeaf to the needs of Yukon First Nations.

During the territorial election campaign, Silver promised to hold the forum up to four times annually. He says it will only take place fewer than four times in a year if the First Nations don’t have the time to meet.

Kwanlin Dun First Nation Chief Doris Bill said she’s pleased that Silver is keeping his election promise.

“I’d like to see more meaningful forums and see some work actually come out of it,” she said.

Bill said the forum in April felt like a photo op more than anything else.

“I was thinking to myself, ‘That was an entire day I could have been doing something else, and accomplished a lot more,’” she said. “And quite frankly, I think that’s the way a lot of people felt.”

There are a number of major files that the new Liberal government will need to address with Yukon First Nations.

Johnston said land-use planning is one major issue that needs to be resolved. Land-use planning in the territory is on hold while the Peel watershed case wends its way through the courts. The Supreme Court of Canada is now scheduled to hear the case in March. The Liberals have said they will implement the final recommended plan for the Peel, which would protect 80 per cent of the watershed, but they have not said how they will navigate the Supreme Court hearing.

Housing is another critical issue for Yukon First Nations, Johnston said. In October, the Ross River Dena Council appealed to all Yukon political parties for help with a housing crisis in the community.

Johnston said many First Nation citizens across the territory are living in substandard housing, and First Nations need more money to build up their housing stock.

Economic development, infrastructure and culturally appropriate education are all areas that need attention, he said.

The Yukon Forum, he said, is about “setting the tone for these relationships to happen.”

Bill said she’s focused on the implementation of the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and the need for modernized resource legislation.

But Johnston, Silver and Bill are keeping their expectations for this first forum in check.

“I think this forum is mainly to set our priorities for future forums,” Bill said.

Johnston said the forum will include some ceremony to honour the new relationship between First Nations and the Yukon government.

And Silver said he’s looking to establish new protocols for communication between governments.

“How do the ministers communicate to the chiefs? How do the chiefs communicate to the premier?” he said.

During the election campaign, Silver promised to meet with all 14 of Yukon’s First Nation chiefs during his first 30 days in office. Now that more than 30 days have elapsed, Silver says he’s met with all but two of the chiefs.

He has yet to meet with Vuntut Gwitchin Chief Bruce Charlie, but he said Charlie will be present at the forum. He has also not met with Ta’an Kwach’an Council Chief Kristina Kane, which he said is his fault.

“I feel we haven’t done a good enough job of reaching out to her and her administration,” he said. “That’s on me.”

He didn’t say whether Kane will attend the forum. “I hope so. I hope to see her there. All chiefs have been invited.”

Johnston said the forum will run from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Kwanlin Dun Cultural Centre on Jan. 13.

“I’m very optimistic and feeling very good about it,” he said. “We should all be excited, because when we succeed as First Nations… everybody succeeds.”

Contact Maura Forrest at maura.forrest@yukon-news.com

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