With the federal government set to meet with First Nation leaders in Ottawa on Friday, Yukon NDP leader Liz Hanson said the Idle No More movement’s concerns are echoed locally in the Yukon as well.
“It’s all related, profoundly. What (Attawapiskat Chief Theresa) Spence and other leaders are saying at the national level, when they speak about treaties, they’re speaking about historic treaties. We have a modern day treaty environment here in the Yukon,” Hanson said.
But the territorial government is not respecting modern treaties like the Umbrella Final Agreement, she said.
“The anger I think we’re seeing manifest by First Nations goes back a year and a bit ago to the government’s approach on the Peel watershed land-use planning process. All parties to the planning process agreement did it with wide-open eyes. They see all these things happening to their traditional territories, and it’s constantly adversarial as opposed to when we agreed, through the land-use planning council, that we were going to make these decisions together,” said Hanson, who worked as a federal official and helped develop those agreements before going into politics.
The announcement of the Friday meeting in Ottawa comes amid mounting pressure from the Idle No More movement and is being met with cautious optimism by the group’s organizers.
“We’ve seen what comes out of one-day meetings in the past,” said Cherish Clarke, a Yukon organizer with Idle No More, referring to last year’s Crown-First Nations gathering. That meeting, on Jan. 24, 2012 was intended to improve the relationship between Canada and First Nations.
The prime minister’s office announced on Jan. 4 that it would sit down at a “working meeting” set for Jan. 11 and coordinated by the Assembly of First Nations.
“The meeting will focus on two areas flowing from the (Jan. 24, 2012) gathering: the treaty relationship and aboriginal rights, and economic development,” the announcement said.
But that relationship is at the heart of Idle No More protests, which sprang up across the country in November, and sparked Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence’s month-long hunger strike. The grassroots movement calls for the federal government to support nation-to-nation relationships between the Crown and First Nations as outlined in the Canadian constitution.
Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation Chief Eric Fairclough will represent the Council of Yukon First Nations at the meeting on Friday.
Council Grand Chief Ruth Massie said she hopes to get a commitment from Aboriginal Affairs minister John Duncan to attend the upcoming intergovernmental Yukon Forum, tentatively slated for some time this month.
“I don’t think that Yukon First Nations are asking for too much. We did negotiate agreements with Canada and Yukon. We have fiduciary obligations that are set out and so do they. For (both governments) to totally ignore them, that’s not appropriate,” said Massie.
She also pointed to the ongoing conflicts between Yukon First Nations and the territorial government on issues like the Peel watershed land-use plan and oil and gas development in Kaska territory. She said these disputes parallel the concerns that Idle No More is pushing on the national level.
“First Nations are not opposed to development. We need to follow the rules and regulations and procedures that we set up going forward. We’re saying, ‘Do it the right way.’ We had this conversation over seven years ago, both with Canada and with the ministry of Aboriginal Affairs,” said Massie.
Mike Smith, the Assembly of First Nations’ Yukon regional chief, will also be at the meeting on Friday. He said last week that he worries if the federal government does not negotiate in good faith at Friday’s meetings, there could be escalation to the ongoing Idle No More road blocks and blowback across the country.
“We’re worried about the backlash, especially for First Nations children going to school. They’re trying to keep it as peaceful as possible,” said Smith.
Both Yukon Premier Darrell Pasloski and MP Ryan Leef were unavailable for comment by the News’ deadline.
Contact Jesse Winter at firstname.lastname@example.org