The Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation has voted, unanimously, to stay outside of the Council of Yukon First Nations.
During the council’s general assembly last month, the council’s 10 Yukon First Nation members passed a resolution asking the Vuntut Gwitchin, Kwanlin Dun and Kaska First Nations (Liard and Ross River) to reconsider joining the group.
Both chiefs Norma Kassi of the Vuntut Gwitchin and Rick O’Brien of the Kwanlin Dun said they would take the resolution back to their membership during their own, upcoming, general assemblies.
No Kaska representatives attended the council’s assembly.
Vuntut Gwitchin citizens gathered in Old Crow during the first weekend of August.
Ruth Massie, grand chief of the council, flew to the remote community to persuade it to rejoin the group.
She spoke to the assembly broadly about strength in unity and, specifically, about how federal officials say they will only discuss certain matters with all Yukon First Nations.
“VGFN’s current relationship with all levels of government is really strong,” said Kassi. “And there was very clear direction from our citizens to abstain from membership from CYFN at this time.”
In terms of regional alliances, the Vuntut Gwitchin will continue working on and within the northern First Nations alliance, which includes the Nacho Nyak Dun and Tr’ondek Hwech’in First Nations, and the Gwich’in Tribal Council from the NWT.
The Vuntut Gwitchin government will also continue to work with the council on issues that pertain to them, said Kassi, noting the council gets money to spread across all Yukon First Nations.
And all territorial aboriginal groups are welcome to participate in council activities, but, as nonmembers, voting rights are sacrificed in the absence of membership fees.
But there was never an issue of money, said Kassi.
There was an issue with management.
In January, the council took control of a formerly arm’s-length subsidiary called the Self-Government Secretariat.
It is a resource centre that gathers information, legislation and policy from all self-governing First Nations (members of the council, or not) and puts it in an organized, central place, making it accessible to all First Nations.
Many regard this as one of the council’s essential services.
The January resolution gave the council’s grand chief and executive director full administrative oversight of the secretariat.
This cuts nonmember First Nations from having a say in the secretariat’s affairs. They will only have observer status.
“We thought that the Self Government Secretariat was doing really well and moving forward,” said Kassi.
Now, however, it is under the control of the CYFN more than it ever was before.
“We have real concerns about that,” said Kassi.
The secretariat’s former director, Pauline Frost, resigned exactly one month after the January resolution passed. She is a citizen of the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation.
“We were hoping that the self-government secretariat could have been built to bring that strong unity amongst all Yukon First Nations,” said Kassi.
“There was a breakdown in communication,” Massie said at the time of the January resolution. “The secretariat has always been a part of CYFN. It is not a separate entity.”
And the council is a political entity, she added.
After the vote in Old Crow, Massie’s only comment was to say she will bring the news of the Vuntut Gwitchin’s decision to the council’s next leadership meeting to get the member chief’s direction on what to do next.
The Council of Yukon First Nations started in 1973, as the Council of Yukon Indians, to help Yukon First Nations settle land claims and establish self-government.
After the Umbrella Final Agreement was signed in 1993, it has been floundering, unable to pin down its reason for existence.
The Vuntut Gwitchin left the council in 2008, with then-chief Joe Linklater claiming a lack of openness and transparency with the council’s political direction.
Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at