Teslin Tlingit Council ‘very happy’ with outcome of federal funding lawsuit, chief says

Chief Richard Sidney says the First Nation is looking forward to negotiating, signing a new agreement

The Teslin Tlingit Council (TTC) is looking forward to signing a new funding agreement with Canada after a recent court decision ordering federal officials to take the First Nation’s entire citizenship into account during negotiations, TTC’s chief says.

“We’re very happy, we’re pleased with the decision,” Chief Richard Sidney said in an interview Jan. 16.

The day before, Yukon Supreme Court Justice Ron Veale, after hearing a lawsuit the TTC filed against the federal government, had ruled that Canada had failed to negotiate a financial transfer agreement (FTA) with TTC in a way that respects the First Nation’s final agreements, despite having a legal obligation to do so.

A key issue highlighted in Veale’s decision was the fact that Canada had only provided funding to TTC based on how many of its citizens were “status Indians” instead of how many citizens the TTC has overall, resulting in years of chronic underfunding.

The First Nation has more than 800 citizens, about 25 per cent of which are non-status.

Because of the disagreement over citizenship, the TTC and Canada have not signed a new FTA since 2010, even though FTAs are supposed to be renewed every five years. Instead, the 2010 FTA has been extended several times, with the current extension scheduled to end on March 31.

Veale’s decision says that a new FTA must be properly negotiated before then.

“The intention of Teslin Tlingit Council was always to negotiate a financial transfer agreement and provide that adequate service to our citizens, all of our citizens,” Sidney said. “The decision reconfirms the process and how the process should be founded and how the process should be structured, so from that perspective, it was very good.”

The TTC has a “number of priorities” it wants to address, Sidney said, with language preservation and revitalization being first and foremost on the list, adding that education, infrastructure and housing are also “very, very critical.”

“The Government of Canada is focused on a number of priorities and a number of agendas, both nationally and regionally, and we had to bring forward what is required by way of our final agreements,” Sidney said of the TTC’s decision to take the matter to court.

“…The end result, I believe, will conclude with an agreement, a financial transfer agreement, that we can all be happy with, looking into the future.”

Besides its direct impact on the TTC, the decision also sets a “significant new precedent” for other self-governing Yukon First Nations negotiating their own FTAs, said Gregory McDade, the lawyer who represented the TTC on the case.

The decision means the court recognized that a promise in a self-government agreement for Canada to enter into a funding arrangement with the First Nation isn’t just an ethical obligation, but a legal and constitutional one, McDade explained.

“In the Yukon, the other Yukon final agreements and self-government agreements are essentially identical to the TTC’s, and so the legal principles in this decision should and probably would apply to each of them equally,” he said.

“… I think it’s a very significant precedent for each of the other Yukon First Nations.”

Contact Jackie Hong at jackie.hong@yukon-news.com


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