The Yukon Party says it will put aside $3.5 million to implement the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action if re-elected.
But the announcement prompted heavy criticism from the Liberals and the NDP, who chastised the governing party for their track record on relationships with Yukon First Nations.
“Reconciliation is a process. There are no shortcuts,” NDP Leader Liz Hanson said Thursday. The Yukon Party, she said, is trying to find a shortcut by just announcing funding.
Joanne Henry, executive director of the the Committee on Abuse in Residential Schools Society questioned why that commitment wasn’t made before the election.
“It’s kind of dangling the carrot in the front of the rabbit,” she said. “Personally, I don’t believe that’s how it should be: it should be built on trust and good relationships.”
Residential school has been talked about for many years, she said. “In that time, not much has happened.”
On top of the $3.5 million, the Yukon Party also said it would give $1.5 million to groups representing First Nation women, effectively doubling their current funding.
“Reconciliation can’t be met by fixing a price tag to the process,” Liberal Leader Sandy Silver said.
The Liberals haven’t announced their platform for implementing the calls to action. Silver committed to implement the TRC’s reccommendations.
“What we would want to do is work with First Nations to address the legacy of residential school by closing the gaps in service delivery,” he said.
Elaine Taylor, minister responsible for the women’s directorate, said the Yukon Party wants to “fully address violence against indigenous women and girls across the territory.”
The TRC report was released 16 months ago. Last month, the Yukon government released a report outlining what had been done to address some recommendations, but offered no action plan for implementing the rest.
“Well before the calls to action were made, Yukon has shown leadership on many different fronts,” Taylor said.
“One of the pillars of this commitment is to work alongside Yukon First Nation leadership to enable (them) to lead that process.”
But it’s not the responsibility of First Nations to lead reconciliation, Hanson said.
“We share that responsibility,” she said. “The premier… to stand in the legislative assembly and identify every penny the government has ever given to any Yukon First Nation group, it’s patronizing.”
Funding First Nation groups dealing with the consequences of residential school is important, Hanson said, but reconciliation is more than that.
“The same government rejects the underlying challenge about building relationships out of respect.”
Several Yukon First Nations have filed lawsuits against the Yukon government in the past years.
Taylor ignored a question about those lawsuits, sticking to talking points.
“It’s so critical we have to move together,” she said. She went on to list a number of agreements and projects involving Yukon First Nations, such as the Carcross/Tagish learning centre and education agreements.
In June, the Tr’ondek Hwech’in First Nation filed a lawsuit against the government over mineral exploration on parts of its traditional territory.
The Ross River Dena Council won a similar lawsuit in 2012 when the Yukon Court of Appeal ruled the government had to consult the First Nation before any type of mineral exploration could happen on its traditional territory.
As a result, the government had to update some of its legislation. But other Yukon First Nations asked for similar treatment starting in 2014.
Since the devolution agreement of 2001, the territorial government has to work with Yukon First Nations to update some of its legislation, including mining, to bring it in line with self-government agreements, Hanson said.
“It’s become a frustrated process,” she said. “Are you just holding these various discussions related to mining legislation to keep people at the table?”
Since 2014, the Kaska Dena Council, the Taku River Tlingit and the Tr’ondek Hwech’in have filed lawsuits. There’s also the much-publicized Peel watershed case.
Both the Yukon Court of Appeal and Yukon Supreme Court ruled the Yukon government violated First Nation self-government agreements when they opened up much of the Peel watershed for development.
The government plan discarded recommendations from the Peel land-use planning commission that were the result of years of consultations with affected First Nations.
Silver said he expected a joint announcement with Yukon First Nations and the Yukon government about implementing the calls to action.
He called the fact that Council of Yukon First Nations Grand Chief Peter Johnston hasn’t spoken about the Yukon Party’s plan for the TRC recommendations in the media “problematic.”
Johnston wasn’t available for an interview Thursday or Friday, a spokesperson told the News.
The Yukon Green Party says it would end funding for Catholic schools in the territory if elected.
First Nation teachers who want to work in Catholic schools have to provide a letter from a priest.
“It’s almost a continuation of the residential school attitude, of making First Nation people second-class citizens,” Green Party interim leader Frank de Jong said.
He also said his party would grant First Nations veto power over activity on their traditional territory.
Contact Pierre Chauvin at email@example.com.