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What's in a title?

Is Grand Chief Andy Carvill's title a little too grand? Some chiefs think so. They're upset to learn that, when they visit Ottawa, bureaucrats and politicians think Carvill is their boss.

Is Grand Chief Andy Carvill’s title a little too grand?

Some chiefs think so. They’re upset to learn that, when they visit Ottawa, bureaucrats and politicians think Carvill is their boss.

They want to make it clear it’s the other way around, and that real political power resides with them.

Hence the push underway to change Carvill’s title to chair. Less grand, certainly. It’s meant to convey the idea that he’s more administrator than political leader.

It’s just one of many proposed changes intended to breathe new life into the Council of Yukon First Nations, which, hobbled by infighting, has seen its membership decline over the past decade.

Beyond the name change, the restructuring plans would take power from Carvill’s hands and put it into the hands of the chiefs. Gone would be Carvill’s existing duties to “act as the main political spokesperson” of the organization, and to represent CYFN “at the territorial, national and international levels.”

But considerable disagreements remain, as evident during a special meeting held in Whitehorse on Monday and Tuesday.

“I’m here with clear direction we will support the grand chief title,” said Eddie Taylor, chief of the Tr’ondek Hwech’in.

Silence followed.

“Maybe I was out-voted there,” Taylor said with the chuckle.

“No, people are thinking,” said the chair, Dave Joe.

Carvill’s title isn’t the only sensitive subject. Other outstanding concerns include how many votes each First Nation should receive, and under which circumstances associate members - Gwitchin from the Northwest Territories currently have this status, and Kaska from the Yukon and British Columbia are being courted - could vote.

These subjects were evidently touchy enough for talks to be held in secret. Mark Wedge, chief of the Carcross Tagish First Nation, called for the meeting to be moved in camera and reporters were told to leave.

Reform talks have moved at glacial speed for the past decade. The latest restructuring proposal was unveiled during a meeting in July. When no decision was made then, a new meeting was scheduled for September, but it was put-off until this week.

By the meeting’s end, the chiefs pledged to keep on with talks later this month after consulting with their councils, but no consensus had yet been found on outstanding concerns.

Notably absent was Mike Smith, chief of the Kwanlin Dun, who was away on business in Calgary. The Kwanlin Dun is the largest of Yukon’s First Nations, and are not part of the CYFN.

During the July meeting, Smith made disparaging remarks about the reform plans, saying it sounded so tepid it would fail to inspire members.

Joe Linklater, chief of the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation, said he would wait and see how the new organization fares before signing up. His First Nation left the organization in November in 2008 over concerns that they were not being adequately consulted about political lobbying being done in Ottawa by Carvill and his staff.

Hammond Dick, chief of the Kaska Tribal Council, sounded more upbeat about the possibility of Kaska joining the fold. Representatives from the Gwitchin Tribal Council were not present.

Faultlines run between First Nations with land claims and those without. Currently, most of the talk around the CYFN table has to do with self-governing First Nations receiving more money from Ottawa, complained Chief David Johnny with the White River First Nation.

For the council to be more representative, it should have an executive officer dedicated to helping First Nations without land claims, he said, echoing a similar call made by Dick.

Changes are already afoot. The council no longer has an executive director, “and I don’t know if there’ll be another one,” said Carvill.

Ed Schultz, who held the job until January, has been shuffled into a new position that focuses on education reform. The decision was partly made for financial reasons, said Carvill. It also partly had to do with politics.

As for his title, “it doesn’t matter to me one way or another,” Carvill said in an interview. “It’s just a title.”

Contact John Thompson at