It’s been 45 years since Together Today for Our Children Tomorrow was presented to the federal government.
In 1973, a delegation travelled to Ottawa and spoke with then-Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau about negotiating a modern-day treaty that would give Yukon First Nations independence and self-governing authority.
Elders Judy Gingell and Sam Johnston, both of whom were part of that delegation, remember little things about that visit — what it was like to leave the Yukon for the first time, trying to decide what to wear to meet with the Prime Minister, how it felt to walk into the House of Commons.
“This was all new to us,” Gingell told a crowd of more than 100 people gathered at Yukon College Jan. 30 for a discussion commemorating the event.
“To go to Ottawa and present this document was a real eye-opener.”
“Now tomorrow, for me, is here today,” said Gingell, a member of the Kwanlin Dün First Nation. “We have a lot of young leaders. You look around, you see a lot of young leaders at council level. Running for chiefs, running for central organization, running for the national organization. This is what we want to see. It’s here.”
Gingell and Johnston, who served as chief of the Teslin Tlingit Council for 14 years, answered questions from moderator Brian MacDonald, assistant deputy minister of aboriginal relations with the Yukon government.
They also took questions from the audience during the first of what will be a series of discussions (presented by Yukon College and YG) about the past, present and future of Yukon First Nations’ self-government and land claims.
“We didn’t have a say in things we had to live by,” said Johnston, remembering what things were like when the document was originally drawn up.
He said chiefs were getting together to talk about what they wanted for younger people in their communities.
Gingell said the First Nations were governed for a long time by the Indian Act. She called the act discriminatory, particularly toward First Nations women (First Nations women who married non-Indigenous men lost their status under the act, as did any future children).
“We did not want the future to go through what we had lived,” said Gingell. “It was not a very nice way that we lived and we wanted to make it better.”
Elijah Smith, then-chief of KDFN, initially thought it would take six months to negotiate the modern-day treaty.
Both Johnston and Gingell said some of the issues raised by the document still need addressing, and responsibility for that falls to everyone in the territory.
“It belongs to all the people of the Yukon,” said Gingell.
Gingell said that when decisions are made in the territory, they should be made with a copy of the document on the desk.
“When you’re going to start to do something, start looking at these agreements,” she said. “What part of those land claims agreements are you applying here?
“If you just plan, talk about it, and make no reference to them, that’s not implementation.”
The College and YG plan to host approximately four more discussions before June. Information will be posted on the Yukon College Facebook page.
Contact Amy Kenny at firstname.lastname@example.org