Grand Chief Ruth Massie wants serve a second term in office.
The current head of the Council of Yukon First Nations is facing challenges by two contenders in the upcoming election. She said she’s running for re-election because there is still more work for her to do.
“We haven’t finished implementing our agenda yet. Of course the continuity and unity with our First Nations would be nice. Basically it’s continuity as far as the (territorial) government, and trying to rebuild our relationship and regain some trust and respect and start working together,” she said.
Massie, like grand chief hopeful Sharon Shorty, said the biggest challenge facing the organization is one of vision, and the need to bring all the Yukon’s First Nations back to the table.
A growing number of First Nations have quit the organization in recent years, amidst disputes over the role of the CYFN and concerns that the grand chief’s office wields too much power.
Currently there are five First Nations that do not sit at the CYFN leadership table: the Ross River Dena Council, the Liard First Nation, the White River First Nation, the Kwanlin Dun, and the Vuntut Gwitchin.
“We have an open invitation to our leadership meetings now, and we try to concentrate and collaborate on common issues with the First Nations. They do come as invited guests. It’s basically up to the First Nations whether they want to rejoin or not. They see the significance in unity. There’s a lot of power when 14 Yukon First Nations get together.
“It’s a matter of their general assemblies accepting our extended hand,” Massie said.
Despite the challenges, Massie said she is proud that the organization has completed its restructuring process, which saw the creation of a number of commissions on issues like education, health and wellness.
Another big challenge Massie wants to tackle with another term is improving the currently cool relationship with the territorial government.
Massie said things have been getting better between the CYFN and the territory, but there are some issues that still need to be addressed, and having all Yukon’s First Nations at the table would make things easier.
One issue in particular is the current battle between the Kaska nations and the territory over the development of oil and gas deposits in the Yukon’s southeast.
The Kaska – a collection of First Nations that straddle the Yukon-B.C. border and include the Liard First Nation and Ross River Dena Council – say they are being left out of the revenue-sharing process because they don’t have signed final agreements in place. Some CYFN member nations have expressed support for the Kaska, but Massie would like to see them all come back to the table together so they could present a united front to Premier Darrell Pasloski and be better able to argue their concerns.
“We’ve already assisted them in the last couple of years. We are in the middle of doing a declaration of working together,” Massie said.
More generally, Massie said she sees the future role of the CYFN not as an umbrella government itself, but as a co-ordinating and advocacy group that works with all its members to help have their concerns addressed.
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