The Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation is leaving the Council of Yukon First Nations and will become its own political master just as it is about to negotiate transfer payments with Ottawa.
“This is a political statement about autonomy,” said Vuntut Gwitchin Chief Joe Linklater.
The council isn’t the legitimate political authority of the Vuntut, said Linklater.
“They are centralizing too much power in the grand chief’s office,” he said. And they have also failed to communicate fully with members like the Vuntut.
The departure means the council now represents 10 of 14 Yukon First Nation governments. Liard, the Ross River Dene and Kwanlin Dun are also outside the organization.
The council is more effective at an administrative role, said Linklater.
“There are things that aren’t reported back to us,” he said.
“(A recent meeting with Ottawa) hasn’t been reported back to us,” he added.
“That concerns us because we’re going to be finalizing the mandate for the final transfer-agreement renewals.”
The Vuntut must act alone to make sure the mandate is wide enough and that the agreement is tailored to the Vuntuts’ needs, said Linklater.
“We’re not asking for anything near what public government gets, but we do think there should be an increase,” he said.
The negotiations are the second and final renewals decreed under the Umbrella Final Agreement. Seven Yukon First Nation governments will negotiate their renewal in the near future.
“Ottawa is moving very quickly to develop the mandate,” said Linklater.
“Our experience is that we have had a very narrow mandate,” he said.
“We need to be innovative about getting adequate levels of funding because, right now, we’re woefully underfunded.”
The last negotiations were held in 2000.
Linklater wants the Vuntut to receive more money for day-to-day core government costs, as well as an expanded mandate to cover high resource-management, heritage and infrastructure costs.
“(The negotiations) can develop in any number of ways,” said Linklater. “At the political level, we’re not trying to come up with a number. But we’re sure that we don’t want anything outrageous.”
The council isn’t up to the job of performing this negotiation and it has outlived its mandate as the political leadership for the Vuntut, said Linklater.
“We want to make clear that the (council) does not represent us politically at all,” said Linklater.
“We won’t be going to leadership conventions or stuff like that.”
The council holds more of an administrative role, said Linklater.
“It was originally an organization to help negotiate the Umbrella Final Agreement. That mandate has been, for the most part, completed.”
The council has moved to become the legitimate political authority of all Yukon First Nations before, said Linklater.
This is not the role it should be headed in, he added.
“It’s more of a co-ordinator and a facilitator.”
On Thursday, in a news release, the council announced it would not be making comments on the matter.
The decision to leave the council was done at a Vuntut meeting on Monday, but followed on resolutions passed in August.
The council has yet to receive a letter explaining the Vuntut’s decision to leave and thus the council declined to comment, it said.
A news conference will be held sometime in the future, a spokesperson said later.
There are some unifying issues that Yukon First Nations can agree on, said Linklater.
This is where First Nations need one voice in Ottawa.
And the Vuntut will still participate in the council’s committees, he said.
“We look at the council in two parts, one is the political arm and the other is administrative,” he added.
“Our separation is political, but we don’t see a point in not sharing information.”
But the Vuntut weren’t interested in having the council meddle in their negotiations with Ottawa.
The agreement renewal covers all financial transfers from Ottawa and will require assessing the true costs of programs.
“We’ve done three reviews: a final transfer review, an implementation review and a gross-expenditure-base exercise,” said Linklater.
“The gross-expenditure-base project looked at the cost of core governance and it found we were way underfunded on the issue of core governance,” he said.
“We’re talking about things like the ability to staff our government, to be able to write legislation, the day-to-day government activities,” he added.
The current mandate is set to expire on March 31st and it is the last scheduled renewal.
“What we may do is agree that we’ll take another look at it again in 10 years.”
Contact James Munson at firstname.lastname@example.org.