Sandy Silver, Yukon premier, left, and Peter Johnson, Council of Yukon First Nations grand chief, speak at the first 2020 Yukon Forum in Whitehorse on Feb. 20. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Problems occurring in Wet’suwet’en territory wouldn’t happen in the Yukon, grand chief says

Peter Johnston said the issue harkens back to the Oka Crisis

What is happening in Wet’suwet’en territory, along with sister protests across the nation, is reminiscent of First Nations-led resistance that happened decades ago, according to the grand chief of the Council of Yukon First Nations.

“It’s sad to see,” Peter Johnston said on Feb. 20 during the first Yukon Forum of the year. “We’re going right back to the ‘80s with the Oka Crisis.”

The Oka Crisis, a fatal standoff led by Mohawk people from Kanesatake near Montreal, occurred in 1990.

The Mohawk community resisted a golf course expansion on land considered sacred. A Quebec police officer was killed. The military was called in eventually. The land continues to be held in trust by the federal government.

Johnston said the Yukon is somewhat immune to problems like these, including the Wet’suwet’en’s fight to protect their traditional territory in British Columbia.

“I think we’ve evolved,” he said. “Our self-government and land claim agreements speak clearly to the arrangements that we have with Yukon government and the arrangements that we have with the federal government.

“We’ve looked upon our citizens, you know, as being one people rather than being marginalized, once again, through status and non-status. We’re still struggling and challenged by those realities that federal perspectives have put on us.”

The Wet’suwet’en, as represented by some hereditary chiefs, don’t want a 670-kilometre natural gas pipeline running through their land.

The issue has caused a rift between traditional government leaders and those elected to sit on band councils. Most Wet’suwet’en First Nations are in favour of the project, with the exception of one.

RCMP officers have raided camps twice in one year. The conflict spilled over earlier this month when officers once again broke through several camps along a forest access road in central B.C. and conducted a rash of arrests of land defenders. The Tyendinaga Mohawks have blocked a CN rail line near Belleville Ont. in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en.

Premier Sandy Silver said that the federal government is in the right for opening up communication with hereditary chiefs and the Mohawks of Tyendinaga.

“I hope and pray for a peaceful resolution,” he said.

“I think this region is the envy of a lot of regions in Canada when it comes to where we are on dialogue and where we are moving forward together.”

Leaders also addressed work spearheaded by the Yukon Advisory Committee into the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

According to a news release, the committee provided an update on this work.

Despite being asked by reporters, it remains unclear what that update is exactly. It seems that there has been input from communities in the Yukon, as gathered by Jeanie Dendys, co-chair of the advisory committee.

Silver said anything specific to the committee’s work is to be announced by that body.

“That’s not up to us to be making that announcement.

“We know that this work cannot be done alone and we’re committed that we work collaboratively with First Nations governments and individuals and Indigenous women’s groups and organizations to change that history for Indigenous women and girls and also LGBTQ2S+ community, as well.”

Contact Julien Gignac at julien.gignac@yukon-news.com

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