White River may charge for highway passage

The White River First Nation is considering erecting a tollbooth on the stretch of Alaska Highway that runs through its traditional land.

The White River First Nation is considering erecting a tollbooth on the stretch of Alaska Highway that runs through its traditional land.

The lack of government funding and slow pace of discussions about the status of the First Nation — which has not signed a self-government agreement and is not a reserve — led to the idea, said White River Chief David Johnny on Friday.

It could be several months before the tollbooth is set up on the highway near Beaver Creek, but Johnny said it’s a real possibility.

“What is the government going to say?” he said. “They don’t provide us with what we need. We have no agreements and, if our programs aren’t up to date funding-wise and nothing comes of this, we’ll do it our own way.

“The only other option is Canada coming forward and dealing with our reservation status.”

Reservation status would provide the 135-member First Nation with benefits by increasing program funding to move towards self-sufficiency in certain areas, said Johnny.

The First Nation is looking to increase funding for social programs and economic development.

“We’re not getting near what the First Nations with self-government agreements get (in funding),” said Johnny. “To boost our programs, we might have to go this tollbooth route. Our standard of living needs to be at a certain level.”

Erecting a tollbooth is only a suggestion and is still under discussion with band councillors at this point, said Johnny.

“We still have rights and interests in this land,” said Johnny. “We should be able to take advantage of it.

“If you charge people $5 or $10 per vehicle, how many tourists come up here in the summer? That will help us out.

“People say we’re milking the system. Who are they to speak? It’s our land. We’re trying to make decisions about our land so we don’t run into problems, like the First Nations with final agreements are in their consultations with the government.”

Signing a final agreement now is not possible because the federal negotiation mandate ended in 2005.

With the strained relationship between some First Nations and the Yukon government, Johnny would not support an agreement now, he said.

“The agreements aren’t worth the paper they’re written on,” said Johnny, adding that Premier Dennis Fentie is unjustly challenging provisions in the agreements.

“If Fentie wants to challenge the First Nations’ agreements, the Canadian government should step in,” he said. “They signed the deal.”

Johnny is not concerned about a possible backlash among people who might feel inconvenienced by the tollbooth.

“There are tollbooths across Canada. Outside of Vancouver, there’s a tollbooth,” he said. “If people don’t like it they can go the Dawson way.

“YTG gets millions of dollars a year. When millions more are added, I don’t see Canada complaining about that.

 “We’re still looking at the issue, legally. And we’re coming up with a price. But eventually, we might have to do this.”

Calls to Indian and Northern Affairs officials were not returned by press time.