The election race for the Council of Yukon First Nations’ next grand chief is underway, and incumbent Ruth Massie has two rivals that both want her job.
One is Sharon Shorty. She has been the speaker for the Teslin Tlingit Council for the past eight years. She’s also well-known for her comedic performances as Gramma Susie.
Now that the CYFN has celebrated the 40th anniversary of Together Today for our Children Tomorrow, Shorty said she wants to help set up the council to tackle the next four decades.
“I feel I can contribute to what the CYFN needs to address, what they are going to do in the next 40 years. They’ve accomplished their mandates of 11 out of the 14 First Nations signing their final agreements. Now we need to formulate what’s going to happen in the next 40 years.”
There has been tension within the CYFN in recent years, with some First Nations leaders worrying that the grand chief’s office holds too much power. Dissatisfaction with the organization has led several First Nations to quit the organization in recent years.
Five of the territory’s 14 First Nations are no longer members of the organization. That includes the territory’s three unsigned First Nations – the Liard First Nation, Ross River Dene Council and White River First Nation – along with the Kwanlin Dun and Vuntut Gwitchin First Nations.
While these First Nations continue to work with the CYFN as non-members, the unsigned First Nations have recently complained of being left out of discussions.
To patch things up, Shorty said she would focus on including all the Yukon’s First Nations in CYFN talks, not just the current members.
“What I would be doing is listening to what the First Nations would like, including the members and the non-members, and see what they want this organization to be, and how it can fulfill its role and serve the First Nations,” she said.
Shorty said that in the next month leading up to the election, she will spend time talking with the unsigned First Nations who are not members, and finding out what it will take for them to come back to the table.
“When they were there in the past, they did reach a measure of success of getting the land claims signed. I believe there is strength to being unified,” she said.
While she admits she has a lot to learn about the grand chief’s role, for Shorty the most important thing is maintaining the sovereignty of each individual First Nation, especially when dealing with the federal government.
John Burdek is another contender. He’s a former chair of the Ta’an Kwach’an Council. He said he’s running because he feels that the organization needs to be more responsive to members’ concerns.
“A lot of the First Nations have issues, whether they are self-governing or not. So it would be very much focused on issues,” he said. But, when pressed, Burdek couldn’t point to which specific issues concerned him.
Burdek also wants to see the CYFN’s relationship with the Yukon government improve. He pointed to his experience dealing with the territorial government as part of the Ta’an government.
“You have to basically maintain that and hold people’s feet to the fire. Certainly the government-to-government relationship needs to be improved. I see that as something that I want to do there,” he said.
Burdek would use the same approach when dealing with the federal government, he said.
“I think that will continue. Again, it will be specific issues to each First Nation, and not getting in the way because some have different perspectives, so making sure you’re not stepping in the way of one First Nation’s attitude, and keep going through that.”
Massie could not be reached for comment by press time.
The election will be held June 26 at the Coast High Country Inn.
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