Dana Tizya-Tramm, chief of Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation, has called a recent court decision upholding his nation’s residency requirement monumental in its national significance.
The July 21 split decision validated the First Nation’s requirement that successful chief or council candidates must live on its northern Yukon settlement lands under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Tizya-Tramm said that despite upholding the residency requirement, the court decision could not be seen as a complete win. He expressed concerns with the arguments presented by lawyers representing the Yukon, stating that they were not in the spirit of self-governance agreements.
Tizya-Tramm continued that Vuntut Gwitchin would not take the seemingly adversarial positions as a point of contention in a future dealings with the Yukon and Canada. Instead, he said he hopes the ruling can be leveraged into continued successes.
“Our relationship with the premier and his ministers will stay unchanged, we will continue to have a meaningful partnership with Canada and with the premier. But that does not mean that their education and its embodiment within their institutions, is yet finished,” the chief said.
Following the Court of Appeal ruling, Tizya-Tramm said self-governing First Nations have increased clarity about how section 25 protects their rights.
Kris Statnyk, a Vuntut Gwitchin citizen who acted as legal counsel for the First Nation, said in the ruling the court shows that section 25 is a tool which should be used by First Nations to protect the things that make them who they are.
When asked about a possible appeal of the case in the Supreme Court of Canada, Tizya-Tramm said conversation around further appeal will be reserved for the VGFN general assembly. He added that there hasn’t been a chance to discuss the implications of the ruling with other Yukon First Nations yet.
Statnyk specifically spoke against arguments raised during the Court of Appeal case that the ruling would create a “charter free zone.”
“What we were trying to demonstrate is that, you know, just because our system of democracy doesn’t look identical to other levels of government within Canada, federal government or territorial government, that it still is a deeply democratic society,” Statnyk said.
“We have a constitution, we have individual rights, through qualities guaranteed in our own constitution.”
Statnyk also called the VGFN residency requirements more relaxed than the ones for Yukon territorial elections which require someone to have lived in the Yukon for a full year before they can run or vote for their MLA.
Tizya-Tramm explained that while the First Nation has 800 registered beneficiaries, only 250 live in Old Crow.
He said that this population off the settlement lands is indicative of historical movement of people against their will and that there were once multiple villages on the settlement lands. He said without the influence of residential schools and tuberculosis outbreaks at the turn of the last century, the settlement lands would have a larger population.
Tizya-Tramm concluded by stating that it was troubling for the VGFN people’s voice and laws to be brought into a courtroom and ruled upon by non-community members. Although an appeal of the decision may be launched, Tizya-Tramm said he looks forward to returning to the VGFN general assembly to share the results of the case.
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