‘Nation’ debate far removed from Yukon reality

Yukon MP Larry Bagnell says the territory has moved beyond the need to recognize aboriginal people as forming “nations” within Canada,…

Yukon MP Larry Bagnell says the territory has moved beyond the need to recognize aboriginal people as forming “nations” within Canada, unlike most other jurisdictions.

“I think we already call them nations; we respect them as First Nations,” he said.

Bagnell’s comments come in the wake of a fractious parliamentary debate about nationhood over the past month.

This week, a motion tabled by Prime Minister Stephen Harper that recognized the Quebecois as a “nation” within Canada passed with 266 votes in the House of Commons.

Before the vote, British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell called on Ottawa to amend the motion so that it recognizes aboriginal Canadians as forming a “nation” within Canada as well.

And on Wednesday, as if to get away from the whole mess, Bagnell’s own Liberal party finally decided to scrap a debate proposed by leadership-hopeful Michael Ignatieff on whether or not Quebec forms a “nation” at this weekend’s leadership convention.

Bagnell has already thrown his support behind Ignatieff.

While Campbell’s comments won kudos from aboriginal leaders, including Assembly of First Nations chief Phil Fontaine, Bagnell considers the Yukon far ahead of BC when it comes to recognizing First Nations communities as “nations.”

“We have 14 First Nations already in the Yukon,” he said. “I think it’s about time that Mr. Campbell got onside with First Nations issues. They were very slow. It’s good Mr. Campbell is finally taking an interest in First Nations.”

Bagnell voted for Harper’s motion this week, as did Ignatieff.

But 15 MPs who didn’t support the motion were Liberals, including another leadership hopeful, Ken Dryden.

The other dissenter was independent MP Garth Turner.

The former minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, Michael Chong, resigned from Harper’s cabinet in protest of the motion.

He missed the vote.

Yukon Premier Dennis Fentie echoed Bagnell’s sentiments that the Yukon has already passed beyond the “nation” debate with aboriginal people.

“We have established something in the Yukon that is cutting edge, leading this country when it comes to self-determination of First Nations people, through our land claims final agreements and our self-government agreements,” said Fentie.

The Yukon government’s position hasn’t changed following the vote, he added.

“This country includes 10 provinces and three territories,” said Fentie.