The Council of Yukon First Nations’ new grand chief wants to expand the lobby’s membership.
“One of the priorities is to bring back the other First Nations,” said Ruth Massie, former Ta’an Kwach’an Council chief.
Massie wouldn’t elaborate on what her other priorities are.
“We’re doing through strategic planning tomorrow and I’ll receive direction and mandate,” she said.
By sheer numbers, Massie was given a clear mandate from delegates who voted at the council’s annual general assembly here on Wednesday. She beat the only contender, former chief and land claim negotiator Joe Jack, 38 votes to 13.
But that wasn’t enough for her to boldly claim her plans.
And leadership is what’s breaking the council these days.
The last chief, Andy Carvill, resigned abruptly in March. He was at the helm while the council went through a restructuring last year – a process that is far from complete.
Tuesday, both candidates faced questions about the council’s unity from delegates. Few First Nations agree on where the council should go next.
Created to promote the creation of land-claim agreements, the council has lost its way since many agreements were signed.
Many First Nations prefer pursuing their goals independently, while others wish for an aboriginal collective arguing it’s a stronger force.
In the meantime, a jurisdictional turf war continues to brew between First Nations, the council and the Yukon government.
In the last several years, there have been complaints by First Nations that the council has wrongly acted on their behalf. That led to the restructuring under Carvill, who had his authority watered down.
And there’s been dissatisfaction with the Yukon government, which lobbies Ottawa for program money that First Nations believe should go directly to them.
Child care is a case in point. The Carcross/Tagish First Nation is busy implementing its family act, which would cover jurisdictional issues when children are at risk.
But for most First Nations, the task is difficult and expensive.
“There’s a lack of capacity at the First Nations level – we find that there aren’t enough professional developed people that work in the field at the community,” said Massie on Tuesday, in response to a question on childcare.
One idea could be work with the Yukon government, which Massie later pilloried for competing with First Nations for program money.
“We can always have an agreement with the Yukon government that requires their services,” she said. “It isn’t like we’re trying to abolish YG, but we need to share that jurisdiction. But they don’t want to go there.”
The five-year negotiations between the council and the Yukon government on child care are still proceeding, she said.
“Every year we get closer to winning this battle,” she said.
Still, Massie didn’t offer a clear idea of where the council fits between individual First Nations and the territorial government.
The council still lacks direction, she said.
“CYFN was a little bit inactive,” she said. “So I’ve had to let the (Yukon) government know what our issues are for the self-government First Nations.
“I don’t think Canada and Yukon were taking us seriously enough. We’re focusing on issue by issue. And we’re taking them to task over participation.
“It’s implementation. It’s the police review. It’s resource development.”
Core funding for the council is meagre. It’s less than $400,000 per year, she said.
“A lot of the departments do proposal writing and it would be nice to have a supporting budget for governance,” she said.
But she didn’t elaborate on what the council should do on behalf of First Nations. As it stands, the council simply does whatever the member First Nations ask it to do.
Jack, the other contender, was seeking to reform the council’s constitution to erase any jurisdictional confusion.
On Wednesday, he interpreted his loss as a sign that First Nations are comfortable with pursuing their goals autonomously without giving the council a clear mandate.
“The statement made today was quite clear to me,” he said in a speech to a roomful of delegates and council staff.
“Yukon First Nations do not want to have a central government at this time. You wish to continue with First Nation development and to continue with those authorities and jurisdictions and trying to implement the self-government agreements as they are written.
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