Shelby Blackjack is pictured with the 2021 Indigenous Employees Award of Honour. Premier Sandy Silver recognized the award recipient in a press release on Feb. 2. (Yukon Public Service Commission/Submitted)

Shelby Blackjack is pictured with the 2021 Indigenous Employees Award of Honour. Premier Sandy Silver recognized the award recipient in a press release on Feb. 2. (Yukon Public Service Commission/Submitted)

Northern Tutchone woman receives Yukon government’s Indigenous Employees Award of Honour

Shelby Blackjack’s work on reconciliation garners 2021 Indigenous Employees Award of Honour

A Northern Tutchone woman from Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation is being honoured for her work within the Yukon government that connects her roots to the territory’s future.

Shelby Blackjack has been awarded Indigenous Employees Award of Honour for her leadership on advancing reconciliation and putting Yukon First Nations Final and Self-Government Agreements into place from her position as a territorial government worker.

“It’s really neat that I now sit on the government’s side of the table and I’m able to assist and look at how these agreements live and breathe,” Blackjack told the News by phone.

In a press release on Feb. 2, Premier Sandy Silver announced the 2021 Indigenous Employees Award of Honour is going to Blackjack. She has worked for the Government of Yukon for five years. Blackjack works as manager in the implementation and reconciliation branch of the territory’s Aboriginal relations division of the Executive Council Office.

In the phone interview, Blackjack said she was “humbled” that her teammates nominated her for this award based on her leadership style, her connections with the team and her ability to lead by example.

Her unit works on putting into place the different agreements by working with individual nations, councils, the federal government and transboundary groups in the territory.

“It’s extremely important to have Indigenous voices on this side of the table, and to have Indigenous voices within government” given the makeup of the Yukon population, she said. “There’s a number of things that are happening that need to involve Indigenous voices and do involve Indigenous voices.”

Blackjack’s team is helping to assist the Yukon government in supporting the burial site investigation committee which will be examining residential school sites in the territory.

This award signifies the hard work of public servants who are First Nations, Inuit and Métis in the territory, even though the representation rate of Indigenous employees in the Yukon government workforce falls short of the actual population living there.

Hiring rate remains low

According to the Breaking Trail Together 2019-2029 strategic plan — which pushes for inclusivity by “ensuring the public service includes multiple perspectives, and is reflective of the communities we serve” — Indigenous employees make up 14.7 per cent of all workers in the territorial government, according to government workforce census data. Census data from 2016 reflects 23.3 per cent of all Yukoners self-identified as having Aboriginal ancestry.

The 2017-18 dashboard in the Final Agreement – Representative Public Service Plan linked on the government’s website shows 15 per cent of employees working in the Yukon government self-identified as Indigenous.

As of March 31, Indigenous employees made up approximately 15 per cent of Yukon government’s workforce, the communications director for the Public Service Commission said in an email statement. Aimee O’Connor said the latest figures will be available at the end of this March, around the time when the affirmative hiring pilot project, where self-identifying Indigenous applicants are prioritized, ends.

The 18-month trial hiring initiative that gives preference to Indigenous applicants who self-identify as Yukon First Nation, or another Canadian Indigenous ancestry, started in the territory in October 2020. That pilot project seeks to increase the number of Indigenous employees working in government in part due to legal obligations outlined in each Yukon First Nation Final Agreement.

In O’Connor’s email statement, the government’s goal for Indigenous employee representation in government is approximately 22 per cent, which is based on the working age population of First Nation, Inuit and Métis people living in the Yukon.

Blackjack had no comment on whether the Yukon government should set a target when it comes to the proportion of Indigenous people working there.

Special programs that are intended to address systemic discrimination are not discriminatory under the Yukon Human Rights Act, the territorial government’s website reads.

‘Walking in both worlds’

Blackjack has a master’s degree in education from Simon Fraser University and has worked towards a doctorate in Indigenous governance at the University of Victoria, which she said she put on hold when she became pregnant with her now five-year-old daughter. She comes from a family of storytellers.

“I share a part of me, and that becomes part of my opinion,” she said.

As a self-described born and raised Yukoner of mixed ancestry, Blackjack explained what advancing reconciliation means to her.

“My mother is of Ukrainian Norwegian Welsh decent, and my father is Northern Tutchone, and I have strong ties to both sides,” she said. “It’s kind of a walking in both worlds. I am Indigenous and settler.”

Blackjack said her perspective is unique because she grew up seeing the agreements that she deals with now being drafted, and she worked to ratify the Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation agreement when she was a teenager. Eleven of the 14 First Nations in the Yukon have negotiated and signed final agreements with the Government of Canada and the Government of Yukon.

“It was a shift to bring people to the table that hadn’t been there,” she said about when it comes to recognizing the inherent rights of Indigenous Peoples.

In Blackjack’s opinion, the proportion of Indigenous workers in the Yukon government workforce remains relatively low because unprecedented things, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, are going on. “A lot of people have gone back to their own communities during COVID,” she said, adding that she cannot pinpoint exactly the reason for the lower rate of Indigenous employees hired to work for the government.

The premier was not available for interview and to comment on affirmative hiring practices.

Naats Tláa Award

In addition to the Indigenous Employees Award of Honour, the government also presented Vera Bossenberry from Energy, Mines and Resources with the Naats Tláa Award, which is presented to a long-standing public servant who has made a significant contribution throughout their career in the Yukon government public service.

Bossenberry is from Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation. A public servant for 25 years, Bossenberry currently serves as an assistant lands officer for the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources.

Vera demonstrates reliability in the performance of duties and commitment to her team,” the government said in a statement. “She is a leader and mentor to her colleagues – and a perfect example of what it means to ‘lead from every seat’.”

Premier Sandy Silver highlighted the role Indigenous employees play in the territory.

“Indigenous employees are a vital part of the Yukon’s public service, and it is important that, together, we continue to raise their profile and increase Indigenous representation in the Yukon’s workforce,” Silver said in the release.

Contact Dana Hatherly at dana.hatherly@yukon-news.com

Yukon government

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