Teslin Tlingit Council picks new chief

Peter Johnston is the new chief of the Teslin Tlingit Council. The 36-year-old won the small First Nation's leadership on February 18, beating out incumbent Eric Morris, and Richard Sidney, a former chief. Impressive.

Peter Johnston is the new chief of the Teslin Tlingit Council.

The 36-year-old won the small First Nation’s leadership on February 18, beating out incumbent Eric Morris, and Richard Sidney, a former chief.

Impressive. But leadership does run in the family. Johnston’s father served as chief for almost 15 years.

“I guess it’s in my blood,” he says with a laugh.

And he has no lack of experience. Johnston has sat on the executive council for nine years. Indeed, this isn’t the first time he’s been chief.

He took on the job on an interim basis in March of 2005. But squabbling soon ensued over the rules by which he was chosen.

So, to avoid controversy, he stepped down 10 months later, in January of 2006.

Teslin’s chief is selected by 25 elected councillors. This wasn’t democratic enough, some people felt.

So the rules changed. The elders’ council was given a say. Public meetings were held.

Meanwhile, Johnston soon became deputy chief, a job he held for two years until his new appointment.

His term lasts until 2012.

Prior to becoming a councillor, Johnston didn’t think much about First Nation politics. Then he started to have children – he now has three, including a daughter born on January 8 – and started to think more about the community in which they would be raised.

Johnston was a village truck driver before he joined the executive council. He graduated from FH Collins High School in Whitehorse, although he remembers he never enjoyed school much.

Now he spends a lot of time trying to push forward the government’s education reform project, as co-chair of the First Nations education advisory committee.

Through the seemingly endless piles of reports and strategies produced by the reform project, Johnston hopes to one day see more aboriginal youth stay in school.

Finish school and get a good job, Johnston tells students.

Teslin Tlingit, which has about 500 beneficiaries, is in the enviable position of having too many jobs to know what to do with.

The First Nation has its fingers in about 10 Whitehorse businesses, including a Coca-Cola distributor, a photocopier dealership, a furniture store and part of the Yukon Inn. Johnston would like to see more beneficiaries work for these companies.

The little First Nation also hopes to take on important government jobs. It has ambitious plans, for example, to take over administration of parts of the justice system.

It currently operates its Peacemaker program, which diverts beneficiaries charged with crimes from the courts to be dealt with by their clan members, rather than “toss you in the clink, see you in 18 months.”

More justice powers are eventually to be downloaded. But, as is often the case with the federal government, such negotiations are taking far longer than expected, said Johnston.

If these are big duties for a small First Nation, simple decisions are further complicated by clans.

Teslin Tlingit has five of them, and each is to receive equal representation in council operations – not always easy, when some clans may only have about 25 members, many of whom are getting on in years.

Then there’s the alienation felt by some beneficiaries who don’t buy into First Nation governance.

“We have to get people involved in the process here,” said Johnston.

But Johnston sees more than big problems. There are also plenty of little solutions to improve the First Nation’s efficiency. For example, he has ideas about how to save money by purchasing goods, like paper, in bulk and storing them in town, rather than having small units shipped in from Whitehorse.

Contact John Thompson at


Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

In a Feb. 17 statement, the City of Whitehorse announced it had adopted the what3words location technology used for emergency response. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Three words could make all the difference in an emergency

City of Whitehorse announced it had adopted the what3words location technology

Jesse Whelen, Blood Ties Four Directions harm reduction councillor, demonstrates how the organization tests for fentanyl in drugs in Whitehorse on May 12, 2020. The Yukon Coroner’s Service has confirmed three drug overdose deaths and one probable overdose death since mid-January. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Three overdose deaths caused by “varying levels of cocaine and fentanyl,” coroner says

Heather Jones says overdoses continue to take lives at an “alarming rate”

Wyatt's World for Feb. 24, 2021.

Wyatt’s World for Feb. 24, 2021.

Approximately 30 Yukoners protest for justice outside the Whitehorse courthouse on Feb. 22, while a preliminary assault hearing takes place inside. The Whitehorse rally took place after the Liard Aboriginal Women’s Society, based in Watson Lake, put out a call to action over the weekend. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Courthouse rally denounces violence against Indigenous women

The Whitehorse rally took place after the Liard Aboriginal Women’s Society put out a call to action

Artist’s rendering of a Dairy Queen drive-thru. City of Whitehorse city council past the first reading of a rezoning ammendment that would allow for a Dairy Queen to be build on Range Road along the Alaska Highway. (Submitted)
Public hearing set for rezoning of 107 Range Road

Petition for Dairy Queen drive-thru garners more than 1,800 signatures

Susie Rogan is a veteran musher with 14 years of racing experience and Yukon Journey organizer. (Yukon Journey Facebook)
Yukon Journey mushers begin 255-mile race

Eleven mushers are participating in the race from Pelly Crossing to Whitehorse

David Malcolm, 40, has been charged with assaulting and attempting to disarm a police officer after an incident in Whitehorse on Feb. 18.	(Phil McLachlan/Capital News)
Man resists arrest, assaults officer

A Whitehorse man has been charged with assaulting and attempting to disarm… Continue reading

Yukon Energy in Whitehorse on Aug. 4, 2020. A site on Robert Service Way near the Alaska Highway has been selected as the future home of Yukon Energy’s energy storage project. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Site selected for Yukon Energy battery project

Planned to be in service by the end of 2022

The Yukon government and the Yukon First Nations Chamber of Commerce have signed a letter of understanding under the territory’s new procurement policy. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
First Nation business registry planned under new procurement system

Letter of understanding signals plans to develop registry, boost procurement opportunities

US Consul General Brent Hardt during a wreath-laying ceremony at Peace Arch State Park in September 2020. Hardt said the two federal governments have been working closely on the issue of appropriate border measures during the pandemic. (John Kageorge photo)
New U.S. consul general says countries working closely on COVID-19 border

“I mean, the goal, obviously, is for both countries to get ahead of this pandemic.”

Legislative assembly on the last day of the fall sitting in Whitehorse on Nov. 22, 2018. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Start of spring sitting announced

The Yukon legislature is set to resume for the spring sitting on… Continue reading

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse City Council this week

History Hunter: Kwanlin Dün — a book of history, hardship and hope

Dǎ Kwǎndur Ghày Ghàkwadîndur: Our Story in Our Words is published by… Continue reading

Most Read