When Yukon First Nations chiefs sat around a table on Wednesday afternoon with the minister of Indian and Northern Affairs, Jim Prentice, one seat was noticeably empty.
It belonged to White River First Nation chief David Johnny.
Johnny refused to attend the meeting in protest over Prentice’s failure to respond to all negotiation requests from White River for more than half a year.
“We see little value in participating in another political show of smoke and mirrors,” wrote Johnny in a statement released this week.
“If the only conversation is in these types of meetings, little is being done to actually achieve results.”
White River is one of only three Yukon First Nations that have not come to a self-governing agreement with the Canadian government.
Johnny wants to get back to the negotiating table, but despite promises made by Prentice during his last visit to Whitehorse, Ottawa has made no attempts to get things underway.
On Thursday, Johnny still hadn’t heard anything from the government or from the Council of Yukon First Nations.
He’s not sure when he will hear anything.
“We’re waiting. I check my e-mails,” he said Thursday from Beaver Creek.
“I think we need to look at options because I’m going to be a thorn in everybody’s ass if this (Alaska) pipeline comes through and I’m sitting at the border saying, ‘Well you can’t build anything because you’re in White River traditional territory and you don’t have an agreement with us.’
“All I’m saying is let’s go back to the table and look at options instead of just sitting here and trying to keep us in limbo.”
On Wednesday, a number of chiefs gave presentations to Prentice on different issues ranging from treaty implementation, government investment, health care, education and economic development.
Discussions continued on the implementation of First Nation government legislation and the recognition of treaties, said Council of Yukon First Nations grand chief Andy Carvill after the meeting Wednesday.
“We’ve been working on it, and we are starting to do more work on it and CYFN is part of the restructuring.”
By the time Prentice returns to the Yukon, possibly in October, the council and the First Nations governments should have a package of draft legislation and policies ready to hand him, said Carvill.
A group of Yukon chiefs plans to travel to Ottawa in September to lobby government officials and look into setting up an office there.
“We want an office in Ottawa that deals with First Nations and the implementation of the agreements not only in the Yukon but in the North,” said Carvill.
The transfer of payments was also a big issue, said Cahmpagne/Aishihik First Nations chief James Allen from Haines Junction on Thursday.
The government just rubber-stamped a targeted investment plan totaling around $30 million over the next two fiscal years, said Allen.
But this took too long to happen, he said.
“The next time, the process should be speedier because these dollars were announced two years ago and now the minister just signed off on these last week.
“The targeted investment plan is a good start, it’s a good initiative, but it seems like right now it’s a one-time thing so we suggested to him that it should be an ongoing commitment by the government.
“We’d like to see a speedier process and this type of commitment be renewed after this allocation is done for this portion of the funding.”