Ruth Massie won’t be giving up her office anytime soon.
The incumbent grand chief of the Council of Yukon First Nations was re-elected at the Council of Yukon First Nations’ general assembly yesterday by a large margin.
Massie earned 28 of the possible 46 votes, with her closest rival Sharon Shorty taking 10 and John Burdek earning eight votes.
Each member nation gets five votes, plus the council’s elder councillor also gets a vote.
At the leaders debate on Wednesday, Massie outlined her plans for the next three-year term.
Her biggest focus will be on re-establishing unity between all Yukon First Nations, she said.
Massie told the News in past interviews that she would like to see all the First Nations represented at the CYFN leadership table, but that may prove difficult to achieve. Currently the Kwanlin Dun, Vuntut Gwitchin, Liard and White River First Nations, as well as the Ross River Dena Council are not members of the CYFN, though Massie said they are all welcome to sit as observers at leadership meetings.
A number of chiefs raised concerns with the centralization of power in Massie’s office, and how the CYFN doesn’t speak for all Yukon First Nations.
Champagne and Aishihik Chief James Allen worried how the candidates would work to fairly represent the voices of all the First Nations.
Nacho Nyak Dun Chief Ed Champion echoed those concerns.
“Somebody said earlier that it’s like a bad marriage, so at some point do you say, ‘It’s over, what’s the point?’ Or do you say, ‘Somebody has to make the effort to go out and talk to those communities’?
“In our community, we have members who say, ‘What are they doing for us?’ It would be very helpful to have the grand chief come out to our community. So my question is, how often will we see you in Mayo this year?” he asked.
“I know in the last three years, we’ve had very busy schedules, trying to implement our strategic plan,” said Massie.
“We made efforts to go into the communities. Sometimes you have the intention to going to attend a general assembly, but we’ve had some citizens basically say, ‘It is our community and don’t come unless you’re invited.’ I’d encourage invitations from the communities and member nations to attend your general assemblies. I think it’s a good idea,” Massie said.
She said from now on she would make the effort to visit each community at least four times a year.
She also said the CYFN needs to work on getting the Yukon and Canadian governments to recognize the importance of fully implementing the outstanding pieces of the various First Nations final agreements.
“Where did the spirit and intent of cooperation go with our agreements?” she asked. “Negotiations of the UFA implementation renewal are just as much their responsibilities as they are ours.”
Massie leaned heavily on her past experience as grand chief, giving her a significant edge over her rivals.
As well as electing their grand chief, the general assembly was also busy with the general work of governance.
One document that was unveiled at the assembly is a new agreement signed by seven of the nine CYFN members.
The agreement calls for the development of a system of land titles law and an electronic land registry. The move will be an important step towards finding a solution for housing challenges in many communities, according to the signatories.
“I see it as being for two things. One is for economic development, and the other is to provide homes for citizens,” said Champion, one of the seven chiefs who signed on.
The registry agreement would provide banks and lenders certainty and collateral so they can approve mortgages on First Nations traditional land, without the First Nation having to give up its rights and title to the land, he said.
“So if a business wanted to put a warehouse up, now there could be lands set aside so that a business could go to a lender and say, ‘Here’s the land that’s designated for that.’ So he could get money to build his building,” Champion explained.
Similarly, citizens will now have the ability to get mortgages as well, he said. That could mean that many people currently on waitlists to have homes provided by their governments could instead finance one themselves.
Massie said that the Yukon government had proposed a similar registry, but its system wouldn’t guarantee the protection of aboriginal rights and title.
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