Land claims have left nothing but broken promises and empty pockets, according to Mary Huebschwerlen, an elder from the Carcross/Tagish First Nations.
When the First Nations signed their land claim agreement five years ago, Huebschwerlen, 71, was led to believe she’d be taken care of, she said.
But she relies more on Ottawa than her own people, she said.
“We were supposed to get the monthly cheque – we haven’t got five cents yet and it’s been four years,” she said. “Every other band, they give their elders money.”
Before land claims were signed, the federal government gave elders a monthly cheque of $200.
The Tr’ondek Hwech’in, Kluane and Champagne/Aishihik First Nations provide monthly cheques to elders, though it is not clear how much they pay. Other First Nations may also pay seniors a monthly stipend, but that information was not available at press time.
Every land claim agreement signed by a Yukon First Nation includes an “elders assistance program.” However it is listed under chapter 20, the chapter on taxation for settlement corporations, which none of the First Nations established.
But elders in the Carcross/Tagish First Nations are taken care of, said Chief Mark Wedge, listing the annual Christmas bonuses and services, like garbage disposal, the First Nations provide.
“If we give them a direct $200 a month, like they want, then their guaranteed-income supplement is reduced from Canada for virtually the same amount,” he said. “It’s complicated and people don’t understand it.”
According to Service Canada, the guaranteed-income supplement is additional money, on top of the old age security pension, for low-income seniors in Canada.
The supplement is based on what the pensioner receives privately, so if the First Nations cut them a cheque, the supplement would be reduced, said Service Canada officials.
For Huebschwerlen the pension is not enough, even with the $500-Christmas bonus issued by the First Nations.
Combined, she and her husband only receive about $700 a month, while groceries and fuel to heat their home gobble up at least $600 of that monthly.
As well, services provided by the First Nations do little to help her financial situation, she said.
The First Nations clean driveways and renovate homes, but the recipient must live in band housing, said Huebschwerlen.
She and her husband do not.
Huebschwerlen also suffers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, a long-term lung disease often caused by smoking. It usually includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema and those who have it rely on portable oxygen.
The machine is rented on a monthly basis, and the First Nations stopped paying after one month, she said.
And the First Nations’ coverage for medical and eye care is not generous, she added.
“Land claims is a farce,” said Huebschwerlen. “I thought all First Nations were supposed to be treated equally? Years ago, everybody got along. Now everybody’s fighting, figuring that everyone owes everyone.”
Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at