The White River First Nation is pulling out of the Council of Yukon First Nations, but both parties say they’re committed to maintaining a close and respectful relationship.
White River Chief Charles Eikland Jr. said the decision wasn’t taken lightly, but his community feels it would have a better chance of negotiating with the federal and territorial governments by operating outside the council.
“We seek to establish a tripartite governance process with Canada and the Yukon. We feel it’s better to be able to stand autonomous and deal for ourselves on a government-to-government basis,” said Eikland Jr.
But that doesn’t mean White River is turning its back on the council or other Yukon First Nations.
“We’d like to reiterate that we plan to keep a close relationship with CYFN and all other First Nations in the interests of extending unity between all First Nations within the Yukon,” said Eikland Jr.
CYFN Grand Chief Ruth Massie said that, while the council is disappointed to lose one of its members, she understands where Eikland Jr. and his community are coming from.
“We were a little shocked to start with. They did express the need to do this because they want to pay attention to their community priorities. It came from their general assembly. You have to respect what the community wants,” said Massie.
“I mean, it’s very understandable. They’re not a signed First Nation and they are right. Our business, a lot of it, is on the implementation of final agreements, and White River doesn’t have one. They feel like they’re sitting in meetings and not being heard on their issues.
“At the same time I don’t feel they’ve expressed enough of their concerns to us. They just want to focus a little bit more on their own community priorities, which are not the same as a self-governing First Nation,” said Massie.
White River joins the Kwanlin Dun, Vuntut Gwichen, Liard and Ross River First Nations as current non-members of the Council.
Massie said she hopes that White River and all the Yukon First Nations will eventually join the council permanently.
“Absolutely they’d be welcome back. Our door is always open to any First Nation … We will continue to be there for them when we need to be and offer our work for them if they want,” said Massie.
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