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Peter Johnston named as next grand chief

Peter Johnston, the former chief of the Teslin Tlingit Council, is poised to take over as grand chief of the Council of Yukon First Nations.

Peter Johnston, the former chief of the Teslin Tlingit Council, is poised to take over as grand chief of the Council of Yukon First Nations.

Nominations for the top job closed Tuesday afternoon and Johnston was the only person to put his name forward.

Ruth Massie, who served as grand chief for the last six years, decided not to seek another term.

Johnston will be sworn in during the CYFN’s general assembly at Airport Lake from June 28 to 30.

Yesterday, he said he was still trying to let the emotion of what happened sink in.

“I’m still in that daze, that euphoria of it all.”

Johnston was chief of the Teslin Tlingit Council from 2009 to 2012. Leadership runs in his family: his father was chief for almost 15 years.

Johnston said this new position is something he has always dreamed about.

“I think there’s very much an obligation, a responsibility, to Yukon First Nations citizens to step up. I have leadership in my blood and have a very passionate outlook on Yukon First Nations in general.”

The Teslin Tlingit Council is a relatively small First Nation of about 800 citizens. Now Johnston will be involved with all nine Yukon First Nations that are part of CYFN and four from the Mackenzie River Delta region.

“In Teslin it’s a different relationship. Everybody has your number, everybody knows where you live,” he said.

“Whether it’s Sunday morning at 7:40 in the morning people are calling you and you’re carrying a nation on your back.”

As the leader of CYFN, he’ll be focusing on broader issues that impact all First Nations.

“You evolve your thinking to a higher level, it’s a bigger perspective,” he said.

“We have membership and First Nations who are not members of (CYFN). My thinking is that we have to look out for the benefit of all Yukon First Nations, and all First Nations in Canada for that matter.”

Not all of the Yukon’s First Nations are part of the council. Over the years a handful of them have decided to break away from the organization.

Johnston said the door is always open for them to come back.

“I would love to be able to have that opportunity to engage with the nations that are not members and attract them back into the organization,” he said.

“Time has pushed us apart a bit in some cases. Each First Nation has their own priorities obviously and you really need to focus on how you can attract people back based on mandates that are relevant to where they are at.”

Johnston said he has much respect for the outgoing grand chief. Massie is looking forward to retirement.

“It has been an honour to represent our people over the past six years, and I am thankful for the many opportunities I have experienced. Now it’s time to retire, relax and do other things, like work on my bucket list - which is pretty long,” she said in a statement.

“I appreciate my working relationships and I want to thank our leaders for our strong working relationships we all have. I wish them the success they deserve in strengthening their governments.”

Massie was unavailable for comment in time for today’s deadline.

With a territorial election slated to be called by this fall, Johnston said CYFN won’t be backing one specific political party. Instead it’ll be focusing on getting as many First Nations people to the polls as possible.

“We’re going to definitely be out there supporting our people to get to the ballot box and to help and assist in that manner,” he said.

“People have their own individual voice and we have to respect that.”

Johnston says he’d like to spend his time as grand chief strengthening First Nations families and focusing on education.

In the past he’s worked as co-chair of CYFN’s education advisory committee, and hosted multiple education summits.

“I’d rather be spending a lot of good money on education rather than dealing with them in the correctional facility later on in life or in the health and social service department later on in life.”

He said it’s important that learning isn’t viewed as one-size-fits-all.

“In particular as First Nations we come from a different way of learning. We’re more hands-on… we’re better to hear it and be engaged in it,” he says.

“I see the Department of Education doing a lot of those on-the-land initiatives and stuff like that, but I think there definitely needs to be more attention given.”

He said it’s also important to embrace technology to “help support the kids, to help them find success.”

He acknowledges there are obstacles.

“It’s tough because we’ve only got so much money. But I think we have to reach out, we have to build partnerships. There’s so many amazing programs that are happening in Canada and around the world that we can definitely be a part of.

“You just have to get out there and expose yourself and build those relationships.”

Contact Ashley Joannou at