Tr’ondek Hwech’in First Nation fuming

DAWSON CITY Dawson’s Tr’ondek Hwech’in First Nation and the Yukon Party are stuck in a political stalemate that’s lasted…

DAWSON CITY

Dawson’s Tr’ondek Hwech’in First Nation and the Yukon Party are stuck in a political stalemate that’s lasted four years.

“We’ve never had any difficulty negotiating on any deal with previous governments,” said Tr’ondek Hwech’in chief Darren Taylor Tuesday.

“And it definitely never took a full mandate to not even move forward.”

There are a number of files that have not progressed since the Yukon Party came into power, he said.

The much-anticipated Tombstone Visitors Centre is one such file.

The $2-million facility should have been built last year, said Tr’ondek Hwech’in executive director Otto Cutts.

“But, now we’re hoping for next year.”

The First Nation has a three-year agreement with the Yukon government and Holland America, which includes the construction of the visitors centre.

“We thought it was a simple cut and dried deal,” said Taylor.

“We held numerous community meetings with elders and agreed on the size and type of structure and how to make it fit into the landscape and its budget,” said Taylor.

“We even looked at (Holland America’s) needs and space requirements.”

But the government suddenly cut the visitor centre budget in half.

“It was a $2-million project and they offered us a budget of $1 million,” said Cutts.

But, in retrospect, the chief is happy the government stalled the project.

“Maybe it’s a blessing in disguise,” said Taylor.

The Tr’ondek Hwech’in land, which includes Tombstone Park, still lacks a management plan, he said.

“And conducting business in the absence of a management plan is not such a good idea anyway.”

During its term, the government did sign a protocol with the First Nation, said Cutts.

But it means nothing.

“It’s just a feel-good document and photo op,” he said.

“But it doesn’t create jobs or produce a dime.

“People meet and it seems genuine, but nothing happens.”

The Tr’ondek Hwech’in and the government are supposed to work together, said NDP candidate Jorn Meier.

“And instead, the Yukon Party signs a memorandum of understanding that looks good, but then nothing happens.”

The government’s proposed $54-million bridge across the Yukon River was another thorn in the Tr’ondek Hwech’in’s side.

“The bridge was one of those things where we didn’t feel we were properly consulted on,” said Cutts.

However, if the bridge had been proposed in another location, Cutts believes the whole First Nation would have supported the project.

There was concern a bridge in the proposed location would create spring ice build-up that would flood a Tr’ondek Hwech’in heritage site downstream.

But in a different location, the bridge would have provided access to Tr’ondek Hwech’in lands currently only accessible by water.

“The problem is the two governments are not able to get serious negotiators at the table who are willing to make compromises,” said Cutts.

“All too often, in negotiations, YTG takes the approach that they have the final hammer and make no compromises.

“It’s a win/lose mentality — if they win, then we lose.”

The First Nation was also promised a new health-care centre, said Cutts.

“We talked with the local MLA at the time and developed a joint venture that went to the revue committee,” he said.

“Then all of a sudden, it was off the agenda.

“There’s lots of talk for little.

“And speaking on behalf of the chief, we are not happy with the way this government has treated this First Nation,” said Cutts.