Aboriginal people need a stronger voice in the legislature, said Gerald Dickson Sr., leader of the newly formed First Nations Party.
This past sitting saw four aboriginal MLAs out of 18 – roughly equal to the aboriginal population of the Yukon, which is about 25 per cent.
There is nothing wrong with the past aboriginal members or what they have done, said Dickson. In fact, he would like to recruit them to the First Nations Party.
“But it’s all about fair, equal representation,” he said. “I believe there’s no other legislative party that cares about traditional laws. It’s about recognizing the traditional owners of the land. We are trying to get that respect because we’re losing that.”
In other words, it’s not about numbers but, rather, the perceptions brought to the table.
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Yukon’s First Nation governments were built on traditional values, but those values have been excluded from territorial politics, said Dickson.
“Anybody that gets elected has to represent everyone,” said Eric Fairclough, the incumbent Liberal candidate for Mayo-Tatchun. “And whoever gets elected has to take those issues forward – whether it’s from elders or environmental or development issues.”
When asked about traditional knowledge, laws and the guidance of elders, Fairclough cited the aboriginal governments.
“The First Nations have their own elders council in which they deal with matters and bring it forward through their own government,” he said. “That can get reflected into policies, whether through the renewable resource councils or other forms.
“I see where perhaps they would like to see something different. I know there’s a struggle with getting the First Nations’ final agreements up and going, but that’s a tough job for any First Nation and any government.
“I think the key here is for any level of government to work co-operatively with another. And that really hasn’t taken place between the Yukon Party and the First Nations.”
But Dickson isn’t asking for co-operation, he’s asking for inclusion.
This election, there are nine aboriginal candidates, two for the Yukon Party, three for the New Democrats and four for the Liberals.
They include NDP candidate for Watson Lake, Liard McMillan.
McMillan has taken a leave of absence as chief of the Liard First Nation to campaign as a territorial candidate.
Separating First Nation belief systems from territorial politics is wrong, McMillan said.
“I think that perception stems out of people failing to remember that First Nations and non-First Nations people do share many of the same values,” he said. “I imagine a big reason why many people choose to live and take residence in the Yukon is because they enjoy the vast wilderness and open landscapes and people enjoy getting outdoors. Well, First Nation people, of course, enjoy that as well and want to protect that traditional way of life – living on the land and the land is what sustains us.”
It makes sense to combine views on natural resources and their management because the resources are shared.
But it’s unfair to say aboriginal Yukoners do not participate in territorial politics, said Fairclough.
“We’ve always had First Nation MLAs elected,” he said. “And First Nation people do get out and vote.
“If you look at my riding, for example, Carmacks is almost 70 per cent aboriginal. Pelly Crossing is, like, 95 per cent. And I think in Mayo, it’s like 50 plus. And they do go out and vote and they do make a difference. We’ve had many aboriginal MLAs in the past: Dave Keenan from Teslin, Marian Horne, John Edzerza. We’ve had Darius (Elias), of course, and before him, Norma Kassi – it’s all aboriginal up there in Old Crow. We’ve had First Nation representation in the legislature for quite some time.”
But this isn’t the first time the idea of a First Nation party has come up, he said.
“This day should have happened a long time ago,” Chief Eddie Taylor of the Tr’ondek Hwech’in First Nation said after Dickson’s presentation to the leadership table of the Council of Yukon First Nations earlier this week.
“You may have created a moment in history here that may have lasting effects,” he said to Dickson. “You do have our full support once the party gets up and going.”
Every other chief agreed and offered their support as well.
“I commend you for having the cajones to stand up and do this,” said Chief Simon Mervyn of the First Nation of Na-cho Nyak Dun. “As the party grows, it will only be beneficial to First Nations, and Yukon in general.”
“Thank you for taking a step forward on behalf of our people,” added Grand Chief Ruth Massie.
The chiefs did criticize Dickson for starting up the party a little too late. It still has yet to finalize an official platform and Stanley James in the Mount Lorne-Southern Lakes riding is the only other candidate running for the party.
“But this will be the start of something great for the First Nations,” said Chief Math’ieya Alatini of Dickson’s own Kluane First Nation.
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