Yukon’s Premier Ranj Pillai and his cabinet met with Council of Yukon First Nations Grand Chief Peter Johnston and Yukon First Nations chiefs for the premier’s first Yukon Forum at the Da Kų Cultural Centre in Haines Junction on March 31.
The 24th Yukon Forum was followed by a retreat, which, the premier told the legislature, allowed for more “candid and personal” conversations.
At the forum, leaders discussed what can be done to address the substance use health emergency and energy.
“When it comes to the opioid reality, it is very complex when it comes down to how we deal with it,” Johnston told reporters via Zoom.
“This opioid reality is affecting all of us.”
The meeting comes just weeks after two men were shot and killed in the community of Mayo on March 11 and the First Nation of Nacho Nyak Dun subsequently declaring a state of emergency, citing an “an opioid emergency that is terrorizing the public in Mayo” with violence, crime, overdoses and death. A territory-wide substance use health emergency was declared in January 2022 by the Yukon government.
Johnston said the leaders need to take a “hard look” at education, prevention, the criminal aspect and the healing side to support people that are caught up in addiction or criminal offenses.
“We have to really take a concentrated look on how we tackle this whole issue,” he said.
When it comes to energy, Johnston spoke about the rising demand as the population grows.
“Every community is affected by this, whether it’s a power outage or the lack of long term, you know, forecasts,” he said.
“But most First Nations communities aren’t into hydro product projects that are affecting their traditional territories, either through the river or the lake systems that we depend on greatly.”
Johnston said Pillai invited all Yukon First Nations, not only the ones with self-government agreements, to have a discussion on what they called the “energy transition.”
Pillai said the discussion entered into the early work on a grid connection between British Columbia and the Yukon.
“It’s really about ensuring that projects in the future are built around reconciliation, and so today was the beginning of the conversation,” he said.
“The communities that have small micro grids that are not connected to the Yukon grid — and that would be Kluane First Nation, as well as [Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation] — just emphasize the fact that it’s important that we continue to work with both of those communities and those First Nation governments on more expanded renewable energy projects with them. So, they’re in a much different situation than the majority of communities in the Yukon.”
Pillai told reporters what he took away from the energy talks.
“The takeaways that I had this morning were that there’s a number of nations that want to continue to build renewable energy projects in partnership with us in their traditional territories,” he said.
“We did signal that the focus when it comes to bigger projects will be on grid connection and our renewable energy project, which still focuses on Atlin as the next project, but really taking on a project that we could build with First Nation governments hand-in-hand. So, we want to build that model — the business model — and that plan together.”
Pillai pointed to demand in the future and access to critical minerals to justify the need for energy projects now, noting he has brought the issue to the attention of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and others.
“We see Canada and the department of [National] Defense talking about billions of dollars in infrastructure — built across the North. What’s going to power that? I don’t think it makes sense to build more diesel, when we’ve been working to remove our reliance on diesel,” he said.
“If you really want to talk about critical minerals, you have to talk about nation building projects, and you have to talk about clean energy, and so, we’ll see how that happens.”
As for the substance use health emergency, Pillai said the government chatted about how it can implement harm reduction, expand treatment and recovery services and increase public education.
Contact Dana Hatherly at email@example.com