Officials with the territorial and First Nations governments spent two days in Ottawa this week lobbying for federal government attention.
Dubbed Yukon Days, the meetings ran from Feb. 5 to 6 and included discussions around the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Yukon’s infrastructure, plans for a university and the number of First Nations children in government care.
Yukon Premier Sandy Silver said First Nations children in government care was probably the most important topic on the agenda.
Currently First Nations children represent 70 to 90 per cent of children in government care “but only make up 22 per cent of our population,” the premier said Feb. 6.
A meeting was scheduled for later in the day with Minister of Indigenous Services Jane Philpott. Council of Yukon First Nations Grand Chief Peter Johnston said a meeting with Philpott “to discuss how we’re going to change that from a strategic position in the territory and that we need government here in Ottawa to not only align but support us with the necessary resources.”
Philpott has promised more money in the upcoming federal budget to help, but no details have been announced.
Johnston said he wasn’t personally at the meetings about ANWR which is home to the calving grounds for the Porcupine caribou.
The American government recently passed a bill that opens parts of the refuge to oil and gas exploration.
Johnston said he did meet with Perry Bellegarde, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations. Johnston said Bellegarde will be going south to meet with the National Congress of the American Indians.
“He is going to be a strong advocate, I believe, for the Porcupine caribou herd when it comes to the American side.”
Silver said officials also discussed Yukon infrastructure. Silver said the Yukon is looking for flexibility from Ottawa.
“When you think about infrastructure up in the North, a lot of our buildings are government buildings whether it be First Nations, municipal or territorial or federal,” he said.
“What we’re seeing from Ottawa is an understanding that things are different up here and a willingness to find solutions to make sure that Yukoners get their fair share of these dollars.”
Yukon College officials were also in Ottawa to talk about plans to become Yukon University.
“One of the things that we’ve always found when we come to Ottawa is that they still think of Yukon as pretty far away and pretty small,” said president Karen Barnes. “And we just wanted to make sure that they understood that we’ve come a long way.”
Barnes said plans for a university are not contingent on federal money but Ottawa does hand out cash specifically for universities that is not available to colleges. That includes research dollars and infrastructure money, she said.
The legislation needed to officially create a university is expected in the fall of 2019. The university would be unveiled by the spring of 2020.
This is the second year that First Nations leaders have been part of the Yukon contingent. Johnston said he expects more lobbying efforts from First Nations in the future. He said having meetings earlier would mean a better chance of having the First Nations’ concerns considered in the federal budget.
“By coming here in February when the budget is already getting hammered out, it’s a little to late.”
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