Premier Sandy Silver and Council of Yukon First Nations Grand Chief Peter Johnston, speak to media at the last Yukon Forum of the year on Dec. 13. (Jackie Hong/Yukon News)

Yukon Days successful, grand chief says after Yukon Forum

Yukon leaders were able to speak with federal public safety minister Bill Blair in Ottawa

Yukon leaders were able to raise community safety issues to the federal level in Ottawa earlier this month, the Council of Yukon First Nations and the premier said following the final Yukon Forum of the year.

Council of Yukon First Nations Grand Chief Peter Johnston told reporters at the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre on Dec. 13 that Yukon Days, an annual blitz of meetings between Yukon and federal leaders in Ottawa, was “successful” this year.

A meeting with members of eight Yukon First Nations and federal public safety minister Bill Blair about community safety in the communities stood out to him in particular, he said.

“We did have some leadership from the Yukon that brought some really community-based examples to the minister,” Johnston said, explaining that delegates highlighted the importance of having a comprehensive approach on not only dealing with crime, but creating a sense of safety.

“I think it’s about defining that we need more resources on the ground and unfortunately you have to take from one pot to deliver on the other … It’s always this give-and-take game but at the end of the day, really, we need to advocate to ensure we have all the multiple resources that are going to supply or define what community safety looks like in communities.”

Premier Sandy Silver, who was accompanying Johnston in speaking to reporters post-Yukon Forum, said it was important for federal ministers like Blair to hear “anecdotal information” from Yukon community members.

“You (can) imagine a minister from Ottawa making decisions from a per-capita basis and you know the changes in funding from our perspective is massive ⁠— from his perspective, (it’s) a drop in the bucket, an accounting error,” Silver said.

That’s why it was “extremely important” for Blair to hear from people like Selkirk First Nation Youth Councillor Morris Morrison, who told the minister he had seen community officers save lives in his community, Silver said.

“And then to pivot to Councillor (Lennie) Charlie in Little Salmon talking about murders in his community, in his own family, and how important it is to have folks like M Division who have the (community) expertise… I really believe Minister Blair heard and really was profoundly moved by those stories and again that was an extremely important part of what Yukon Days is and means to us.”

Johnston said it was also nice to see “cohesion” when dealing with Carolyn Bennet, minister of Crown–Indigenous Relations, whose position remained unchanged following the October federal election. Among the previous promises that appear to be becoming reality, Johnston said, is loan forgiveness for land claim negotiations, with the possibility of $20 million coming back to Yukon First Nations, “no strings attached,” in April.

Highlights of the Yukon Forum itself, meanwhile, included a tour of the new group home on Wann Road in Porter Creek.

“To have a particular chief and a particular elder coming to me after the tour of the group home and (saying), you know, ‘We’re survivors of residential school and just to imagine having facilities like this in the past, you know, and where we would be right now…’ That means the world to our government,” Silver said.

As well, Yukon First Nations and Yukon government officials discussed signing a memorandum of understanding in regards to an education data-sharing initiative and the territory’s strategy for addressing the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

Silver said the “pillars” of the strategy have been established — healing, community safety, economic development, community dialogue. The next stage of work, he explained, involves reaching out to not only First Nations, but women’s and LGBTQ2S+ organizations to see what putting those pillars to practice might look like.

The territorial and Yukon First Nations governments also talked about the evolution and future of the forum.

This was the 12th Yukon Forum in a row since the Yukon Liberals came into power, Silver noted — governments are mandated to meet up to four times a year, and they’ve hit that upper target for the past three years.

Discussions have become less scripted and based on notes and talking points, Silver said, and have become more free-flowing and honest. That the meetings are closed to the public, he added, allows discussions to be more “ethereal” and for parties to “expose our tender underbellies.”

“We’ve established a new normal,” Silver said of how Yukon Forums, and the discussions and relationships between Yukon government and Yukon First Nations, function.

Johnston agreed.

“There’s no going back,” he said.

Contact Jackie Hong at jackie.hong@yukon-news.com

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