Grand Chief Ruth Massie says the Yukon government is misrepresenting its relationship with Yukon First Nations.
Last week, Premier Darrell Pasloski insisted that the relationship between Yukon First Nations and the government is a good one and in no need of repair.
“I believe that there are a lot more things that unite the governments than divide these governments,” Pasloski said in an interview with the News.
But that simply isn’t the case, said Massie.
“Our leaders are very, very frustrated. We feel very disrespected,” Massie said, adding that as far as the Council of Yukon First Nations is concerned, the Yukon government is not respecting the territory’s self-government agreements.
“Absolutely, the relationship is souring. At what point do we walk away from the table and say we don’t want to talk to you anymore?” Massie asked.
The biggest problem is that the government doesn’t respect First Nations governments as partners, and refuses to accept any suggestions made at the negotiating table, Massie said.
“We are not being listened to. We sit down at the table and sometimes we sit down at the table with a solution. When do they ever listen to our recommendations?
“What is the sense of even trying? It’s frustrating for us when people don’t listen to what we have to say. When does our opinion count?”
As she sees it, at the heart of the conflict are two very different styles of government. The First Nations, she said, listens to their constituents and govern by consensus. The Yukon Party, by comparison, governs based only on its political ideology and won’t accept any outside perspective, she said.
The Peel is a perfect example of this broken relationship, she said.
“Absolutely, all the First Nations are very, very concerned (by the government’s new Peel plan). Our basis is the protection of our land, our water and our air. They did not modify the (Peel planning commission’s) final recommended plan. They re-wrote the whole thing. They operated outside the Umbrella Final Agreement,” she said.
The First Nations of Nacho Nyak Dun and the Tr’ondek Hwech’in have sued the Yukon government over its plan for the Peel watershed, alleging the government violated constitutionally-protected agreements by implementing a plan that is nearly the opposite of what the planning commission recommended. The Yukon chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society and the Yukon Conservation Society are also parties in the lawsuit.
The Gwich’in Tribal Council of the Northwest Territories has said it’s planning a separate lawsuit over similar concerns.
The Peel planning commission’s recommended plan would have banned new staking and road building in 80 per cent of the region.
By comparison, the government’s plan doesn’t ban roads anywhere in the watershed and staking is only withdrawn in 29 per cent of the area. The government says stricter environmental regulation will keep other areas of the region safe from environmental damage.
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