YG, First Nations, feds hold ‘productive’ meetings in Whitehorse

Despite “productive” conversations and “passionate debate,” the Yukon Intergovernmental Forum ended March 16 without any concrete announcements.

Despite “productive” conversations and “passionate debate,” the Yukon Intergovernmental Forum ended March 16 without any concrete announcements.

Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, Yukon Premier Sandy Silver, Council of Yukon First Nations Grand Chief Peter Johnston and Yukon First Nations chiefs met to discuss topics ranging from repealing parts of Bill S-6 to missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls and financial transfer agreements.

“We had some tough conversations and passionate debate,” Silver said. “There is a willingness from government to government to government to work together in terms of reconciliation, but more importantly as a team for the North.”

Bennett said the Yukon is an example for the rest of the country in terms of First Nation self-government.

Johnston talked about “renewed optimism” from First Nations about their relationship with the federal and territorial governments.

“We want to look forward and see the concrete results that need to happen,” he said. “When we talk about (financial transfer agreements), it’s the bloodline for the success of our people.”

Those agreements, he said, have been shown to be underfunded.

“We’re still relying on contribution agreements and other funders to help fill the gaps when it comes to providing governance to our people,” he said.

Silver thanked Bennett for bringing up the topic of the Yukon’s First Nations that have yet to sign self-government agreements, something Johnston picked up on.

“We can’t forget about our brothers and sisters in Kaska nations and White River,” he said.

“Without their success, we’re only as strong as our weakest link.”

Yukon’s MP Larry Bagnell gave an update on Bill C-17, a bill to repeal controversial amendments to the territory’s socio-economic assessment legislation.

Bennett called Bill S-6, the Harper government legislation that contained those amendments, an “irritant we hope we’re getting dealt with.”

The bill will be before Parliament within the next 10 days, Bagnell said.

“We’ve been waiting some time for that,” he said.

While Bagnell said he couldn’t predict what the independent Senators would do, he said the Yukon Chamber of Mines is on board with the changes.

On March 13 the Yukon Chamber of Mines, the Yukon government and CYFN wrote a joint letter to the federal government stating their support for Bill C-17 and urging the bill be passed “without change, as soon as possible.”

The bill is set to go through second reading next week.

“We look forward to the support of the House in moving this bill through so that the Yukon economy can benefit from the certainty established by the final and self-government agreements in Yukon,” the letter reads.

Several Yukon First Nations launched a lawsuit against the federal government in October 2015, arguing S-6 was a breach of their final agreements.

Bennett also talked about developing the process to draft an Arctic policy framework.

“One of the things we will work on with the First Nations as well as the territorial government is to create and design a policy that will take us into a new time, where it’s not only domestic policy but also foreign policy co-created with Northerners,” she said. “Our assurance is that nothing is going to happen without Northerners at the table.”

Bennett said there would be an interim report next November about missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, followed by a final report. The commissioners, she said, need time to work on existing reports to prepare their work plan.

“We hope the families also recognize we’re not waiting for that report to work together with First Nations to deal with a lot of the root causes that were identified in previous reports and in gatherings.”

When asked about a precise financial commitment for implementing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action and to prevent violence against Aboriginal women and girls, Silver remained evasive, noting his government is working on the budget.

He said he’s confident that with the leadership of Jeanie Dendys, minister responsible for the Women’s Directorate, “we will have numbers (for the funding) that will be within the spirit of our campaign commitment.

“If the conversations that happened today are any indications of the priorities of the First Nation governments of the Yukon, you’ll be sure that we will be making concrete actions on these files.”

Contact Pierre Chauvin at pierre.chauvin@yukon-news.com

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