Valcourt digs in heels over comments on First Nation governments

Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt insists he's said nothing wrong by asserting that Yukon First Nations are not governments, as far as the Umbrella Final Agreement is concerned. Many disagree.

Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt insists he’s said nothing wrong by asserting that Yukon First Nations are not governments, as far as the Umbrella Final Agreement is concerned.

Many disagree. His comment has outraged Yukon’s chiefs. MP Ryan Leef says Valcourt’s comments may have been misunderstood, but there should be no doubt that First Nations are governments. Premier Darrell Pasloski agrees and says he plans to write to the minister to clarify the matter.

Valcourt made the contentious statements during a meeting with Yukon chiefs on Monday. “The minister shut us down by telling us we are ‘not real governments’ and therefore he does not need to make us active participants in changing legislation that arises from our treaties,” said Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation Chief Eric Fairclough in a statement.

“This flies in the face of recent court decisions that have affirmed the duty to consult First Nations. It is an insult and a signal to First Nations everywhere that our views don’t count.”

During a hearing of the Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Committee on Wednesday, Valcourt tried to clarify what he meant.

It’s not that First Nations aren’t governments, he insisted, it’s just that they aren’t governments under the Umbrella Final Agreement.

First Nations oppose four proposed amendments to Yukon’s environmental assessment laws and say they’ll sue unless changes are made.

One of their objections, Valcourt told the committee, is that a proposed change to allow the minister to delegate powers to the Yukon government violates the UFA.

“Their argument is that, you know, they should be, under the umbrella agreement considered as governments, and unfortunately that was not the deal concluded,” he said.

“The umbrella agreement is clear that governments is defined as either Canada or Yukon.”

So far, few seem to agree with him.

Yukon Premier Darrell Pasloski, who has cheered on the proposed changes, said he will be asking Valcourt to correct the record. Chapter 24 of the UFA clearly provides for First Nation self-government, he said.

“Yukon First Nation final agreements make up just under half of Canada’s modern land claim agreements, and Yukon First Nations are global leaders in the area of aboriginal self-government,” Pasloski said.

“This is something all Yukoners can be incredibly proud of.”

Yukon MP Ryan Leef attempted to clarify his colleague’s remarks while also disagreeing with him personally during an interview yesterday.

Leef, who was part of the meeting with the First Nations, said Valcourt was using the strictest definition of the Umbrella Final Agreement.

“His remarks that the Yukon First Nations were offended by were really in respect to that strict definition that’s contained in the front pages of the Umbrella Final Agreement.”

Leef said it’s his personal belief that under the UFA, First Nations should be considered governments.

“My personal belief is yeah, and I’ve never operated otherwise. I’ve certainly never operated otherwise.”

Leef said he spoke with First Nation representatives the day after the meeting with Valcourt to discuss the issue.

“I don’t think that they have any sense that there’s a question mark on my part what Yukon First Nations are or are not responsible for,” he said.

Northern affairs expert Ken Coates said it’s important to recognize that the authority of First Nation governments has expanded. The strict definition under the UFA “represents 20-year-old thinking,” he said.

“And that’s fair enough, 20 years ago that was the way we talked.”

Since then, there are now processes around the duty to consult and aboriginal self-government agreements, he said.

Modern treaties and things like aboriginal development corporations and revenue-sharing agreements mean the First Nations have independent funds, independent responsibilities and legal duties.

“Quite frankly, if it looks like a moose and it walks like a moose and it runs like a moose, it’s got to be a moose,” Coates said.

Contact Ashley Joannou at

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

Just Posted

Yukon RCMP say they’ve received three reports of youth being extorted online. (Black Press file)
Yukon youth being extorted online

Yukon youth being extorted online Yukon RCMP say they’ve received three reports… Continue reading

Fines for contravening the fire ban start at $1,150 and could go as high as $100,000. File photo
Yukon campgrounds will open on May 1 this year. (Black Press file)
Yukon campgrounds to open early

Yukon campgrounds will open on May 1 this year. The early opening… Continue reading

Legislative assembly on the last day of the fall sitting in Whitehorse on Nov. 22, 2018. Politicians return for the spring sitting of the assembly March 4. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Analysis: What to expect in spring sitting of the legislature

They’re back on March 4, but election speculation is looming large


Wyatt’s World for March 3, 2021.

Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce executive director Susan Guatto and program manager Andrei Samson outside the chamber office in downtown Whitehorse Feb. 23. (Stephanie Waddell, Yukon News)
When business models shift

Whitehorse chamber offers digital marketing workshop

Tom Ullyett, pictured, is the first Yukoner to receive the Louis St-Laurent Award of Excellence from the Canadian Bar Association for his work as a community builder and mentor in the territory. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)
Tom Ullyett wins lifetime achievement award from the Canadian Bar Association

Ullyett has worked in the Yukon’s justice ecosystem for 36 years as a public sector lawyer and mentor

The Blood Ties outreach van will now run seven nights a week, thanks to a boost in government funding. Logan Godin, coordinator, and Jesse Whelen, harm reduction counsellor, are seen here on May 12, 2020. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Blood Ties outreach van running seven nights a week with funding boost

The Yukon government is ramping up overdose response, considering safe supply plan

Ranj Pillai speaks to media about business relief programs in Whitehorse on April 1, 2020. The Yukon government announced Feb.25 that it will extend business support programs until September. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Government extends business relief programs to September, launches new loan

“It really gives folks some help with supporting their business with cash flow.”

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
A look at decisions made by Whitehorse City Council this week

Bylaw amendment Whitehorse city council is moving closer with changes to a… Continue reading

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

Legislative assembly on the last day of the fall sitting in Whitehorse on Nov. 22, 2018. As the legislature prepares to return on March 4, the three parties are continuing to finalize candidates in the territory’s 19 ridings. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Nine new candidates confirmed in Yukon ridings

It has been a busy two weeks as the parties try to firm up candidates

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

Most Read