Liard First Nation members decry resource pact with Yukon government

A group of concerned Liard First Nation members are speaking out against their council's lack of consultation prior to signing a resource agreement with the Yukon government last week.

A group of concerned Liard First Nation members are speaking out against their council’s lack of consultation prior to signing a resource agreement with the Yukon government last week.

“People are really upset about that signing,” said Alfred Chief, spokesperson for Kaska Concerned about Land Protection and Good Government.

“It came as a total surprise to everybody.”

The agreement in question, signed between the Yukon government and the Kaska Nation, sets out a plan for negotiating resource management and economic development on Kaska territory.

The chiefs of the Ross River Dena Council and the Liard First Nation have both signed, as has the chairperson of the Kaska Dena Council, which represents the Kaska in B.C.

The agreement also includes a payment of $500,000 to the Liard First Nation for “community wellness and capacity development.”

Chief said it’s another decision in a series of many that was made without consulting Liard First Nation members.

Two of the First Nation’s four councillors have resigned and have yet to be replaced, he said. Chief said he wonders if it’s legal for the First Nation to make important decisions in that situation.

Moreover, no regular council meetings or general assemblies have been held since Chief Daniel Morris was elected in Dec. 2013, he said.

There is even talk of a lawsuit against the First Nation.

“If the band office can sue the government for not consulting it, I’d like to think the band members can sue the band office and the government for not consulting,” he said.

The First Nation has been under third-party management since Aug. 2014. That’s when Ottawa appointed a manager to straighten out the First Nation’s financial mess.

As of late 2014 the First Nation still owed Aboriginal Affairs over $400,000. It has yet to provide its financial statements for 2014-15, which it was supposed to do by last summer.

The Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada describes the measure as a last resort, to be taken as a temporary measure to ensure the continued delivery of programs and services to the community.

But 18 months later, chief and council have yet to cooperate with the third-party manager and some services have ceased altogether, Chief said. Even the band office hasn’t re-opened.

“The third-party manager has taken over the health department so some arrangements have been made to send people out for treatment,” he said.

“But other than that, it’s same old. Some elders aren’t getting their usual quotas of wood while others are running out of oil.

“And houses aren’t being repaired like they should be.”

Rick Massie, a spokesperson with Aboriginal Affairs, said the Liard First Nation’s chief and council remain responsible for managing resources and funding that flows in from other sources, such as resource agreements with the territory.

When asked to explain why the Yukon government had given the First Nation the funding, a spokesperson for the aboriginal relations branch said the government would continue its relationship with the Liard First Nation “even though it’s working through an issue with the Government of Canada.”

“The Yukon government is not part of any discussions or decisions related to the third party management and it does not affect any financial arrangements between Yukon government and Liard First Nation,” said Shari-Lynn MacLellan.

Chief said his group, which has about 20 members, was created last year “to give people a voice.” It’s concerned about where that money will ultimately end up.

“We’re worried it might end up in his (Morris’s) pocket,” he said.

“There’s no transparency for how any money is being spent.”

Morris did not respond to a request for comment.

Doug Eyford, the Yukon government’s chief negotiator, said last week the Yukon government would monitor how the money is being spent. The agreement forbids the Kaska from using any of the funding for litigation purposes.

Chief said he’d like to see an early election called so that a new government can cooperate with the third-party manager and “get people back to work.”

Contact Myles Dolphin at

myles@yukon-news.com

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