The Gwich’in Tribal Council is asking the Council of Yukon First Nations for help in difficult land-use negotiations with the Yukon government.
“We’re not having much luck with the Yukon government,” said tribal council president Fred Carmichael.
The request was made during a presentation at the CYFN General Assembly Tuesday afternoon during which the tribal council explained its business operations, including work on the renewed Mackenzie Valley pipeline project.
Asked after his presentation what trouble the tribal council was having in its negotiations with the Yukon government, Carmichael did not go into specifics.
“I’d rather not go into that; mainly, it’s negotiations over land-use issues within our traditional territories in the Yukon,” he said.
Documents handed out prior to the presentation list Porcupine caribou regulations as a “Yukon issue” for the tribal council, a founding member of the Aboriginal Pipeline Group.
The Gwich’in Tribal Council consists of four communities in the Mackenzie Delta of the Northwest Territories: Inuvik, Tsiigehtchic, Aklavik and Fort McPherson.
The tribal council’s 1992 land claim agreement includes land stretching into the Yukon, mainly north of Eagle Plains.
While assistance dealing with the Yukon government is required, that is only one reason why the relationship between the tribal council and CYFN needs strengthening, said Carmichael.
The Gwich’in people have been CYFN members for three years, during which the tribal council has seen benefits, but has remained mostly on the periphery of CYFN operations.
“We really need to pay more attention to that relationship and put more effort into making it work for the benefit of both the Gwich’in and CYFN people,” said Carmichael.
During the presentation, Carmichael explained how the Gwich’in people have benefited from the success of the tribal council’s development corporation — knowledge that could be shared with Yukon First Nations, he said.
“It’s what we’re seeking here in the Yukon,” said Chief Eric Morris of the Teslin Tlingit Council. “(Gwich’in) is blazing a trail for us to follow.”
The contentious Mackenzie Valley pipeline project, with an estimated $16-billion price tag, is an example of how the tribal council is working towards more involvement in regional economic matters.
The tribal council owns Mackenzie Valley Construction Ltd. and Mackenzie Aboriginal Corporation, both set up to bid for large contracts if the pipeline project moves ahead.
“We want to ensure we’re meaningful players in the construction of the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline,” said Carmichael.
“We’d be picking up crumbs of jobs from the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline if we didn’t get organized.
“As long as the gas flows, the cash flows to the Gwich’in people and the money will only flow if the pipeline is built.”
Economic growth can be beneficial to First Nations, but one needs only to look in the past to find examples of the environmental cost of natural resource development, said Vuntut Gwitchin youth delegate, Brandon Kaye.
“As stewards of the land, as we like to call ourselves, we need to take steps to ensure the land is not irreparably damaged,” said Kaye. “The Faro Mine is a great example of consequences of development. Some people say it’ll take 500 years to clean it up.
“Economic growth is great, but we need to analyze it to the fullest degree.”
To be truly independent and sustainable, said Aklavik Chief Charles Furlong, “We must strategically develop our resources in order to manage our own affairs.”
CYFN Grand Chief Andy Carvill agreed more involvement from the Gwich’in Tribal Council is needed for First Nations unity in the North.
“When we talk about a vision for the North built by the three (northern) premiers, I have to ask, ‘Where’s the First Nation involvement?’” said Carvill.
“We had the same discussions years ago and now we’re having them again. It’s time we sit down as leaders and set an agenda for providing a common voice.”