White River FN stands firm on land claim position

The White River First Nation may have a new leader, but its stance on signing a land claim agreement has not changed. "If we thought it was good for us, we would have signed," newly-elected Chief Charles Eikland Jr.

The White River First Nation may have a new leader, but its stance on signing a land claim agreement has not changed.

“If we thought it was good for us, we would have signed,” newly-elected Chief Charles Eikland Jr. said in an interview this week.

Renegotiating a new agreement isn’t high on his priority list either, he said. Especially since other Yukon First Nations, who have signed an agreement, are not too happy with the way things are going.

“The problem with those claims is that when you’re negotiating, they claim it’s flexible and can be worked with but when you get down to dealing with issues, they remain rigid and don’t flex,” said Eikland Jr. “When I sit back and look at some of them, it’s the average member who’s losing his rights, but he gains virtually nothing.”

Forty-nine-year-old Eikland Jr., a carpenter by trade, is the first chief of the southwest Yukon First Nation to be elected under the new voting system that was established through a referendum this past summer.

The new rules include mail-in ballots for citizens living in Canada, outside of Beaver Creek, but it excludes American, nonstatus citizens.

The Canada-U.S. border splits the First Nation’s traditional territory but Ottawa’s financial transfers are based on the number of Canadian federal Indian status cards.

Not all Alaskan citizens of the White River First Nation hold a status card and because they are not responsible for any of the First Nation’s budget, they shouldn’t have a say in how it is spent, Eikland Jr. argued through a court case he waged after losing the 2008 election.

Because of his strong stance on excluding American, nonstatus members from voting in the White River First Nation’s affairs it may sound surprising to hear the inclusive policies Eikland Jr. hopes to enact when taking office.

Many of Eikland Jr.‘s top priorities for the First Nation focus on bringing its people together – its Canadian

and status-card-holding members, he clarified.

Employment is a main avenue to bring citizens who are living outside Beaver Creek back to their community, their culture and their heritage, said Eikland Jr.

With the resource boom offering more jobs, Eikland hopes to extend those, mainly summer, opportunities to citizens living outside the community and territory in the hope of giving them “a sense of home, or where they come from,” he said.

By improving the First Nation’s communication with its membership, as well as general transparency and accountability, he hopes to tighten relations within the community as well.

“Basically help our membership to try and overcome divisions within the First Nation and bring all of our people together,” he said. “The biggest priority is to help our people.”

Eikland Jr. and an entirely new council begin a three-year term on Jan.16. The four new councillors are Michael Nieman, Dwayne Broeren, Patrick Johnny and Gordon John.

As of December, the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada recognizes the First Nation has just under 150 registered members across the country.

According to a 2006 Statistics Canada report, less than half of those members live in the Yukon and less than one-quarter, or approximately 35 members, live in Beaver Creek.

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at

roxannes@yukon-news.com

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