Yukon Party snubs First Nation leaders

Premier Darrell Pasloski's failure to meet with assembled aboriginal leaders in the last two days has broken an already weak relationship between First Nations and the territory, said chiefs on Tuesday.

First Nation leadership is sick and tired of the Yukon Party.

Premier Darrell Pasloski’s failure to meet with assembled aboriginal leaders in the last two days has broken an already weak relationship between First Nations and the territory, said chiefs on Tuesday.

“The snub that we received from the Yukon Party was really indicative of the relationship that has been established, or a lack thereof, with Yukon First Nations over the past eight years since the Yukon Party has been in office,” said Chief Math’ieya Alatini of the Kluane First Nation.

“That really has to change. We recognize that. We have decided that we’re going to take a stronger stance. We want to take our power back and we’re asking all these parties to really step up to the plate.”

After the election was called, the aboriginal leadership moved their meetings from the original schedule at the end of the month to give the political party leaders a chance to attend, said Ruth Massie, grand chief of the Council of Yukon First Nations.

Every other territorial party leader did attend.

The invitation was extended to Pasloski through an email on September 1. Massie’s executive assistant called Pasloski’s office each day from Tuesday September 6 until Friday September 9. At around 2 to 3 p.m. Friday, a staffer from the premier’s office informed the council he wouldn’t attend because he had more pressing business.

They would have rearranged the schedule to accommodate Pasloski, said Massie, mentioning they were flexible for other leaders, like Gerald Dickson Sr. of the new First Nations Party, who had to drive in from Burwash Landing.

“And if the premier couldn’t come, there’s lots of party members,” said Massie. “And there’s lots of party candidates running that could have represented their party.

“Our main purpose of having these meetings was to hear from the political parties and we have one of the main political parties that did not show up. What kind of a message is that?”

In July, during the council’s annual general assembly, questions were sent to all political party leaders.

They provide a basic outline of the aboriginal leaders’ main concerns around intergovernmental relations, including the expensive and inefficient land-use planning process, sharing the responsibilities over child welfare and education and the Yukon Forum.

The forum is, for many chiefs, the only opportunity to meet with territorial and federal leaders.

Since its inception under the Fentie government, it has been nothing more than a handshaking exercise or a discussion on issues dictated by Ottawa or the territory, said aboriginal leaders.

In July, all the political party leaders – including Pasloski – attending the general assembly and addressed these questions. Pasloski’s office also faxed written answers to the council yesterday.

As well, Pasloski has staged a community tour, meeting with most chiefs.

“He did an informal splash-splash-soapbox thing, but that’s not an excuse,” said Na-cho Nyak Dun First Nation Chief Simon Mervyn. “Each chief that sits here, in our opinion, has more authority than the premier of Yukon because we own land and we enjoy legislative authority. But collectively, if we can’t come together and work together for the benefit of Yukon then we’re just beating our heads up against a wall.

“The indifference towards First Nations people is still there. Blatantly disrespecting First Nations’ request to come to a meeting it is obvious that the mentality is still there.”

The “snub” from Pasloski is not a surprise, said Massie, listing a number of long, and costly examples when First Nations groups worked with the territory, to no avail.

Most notably, the two-years of collaborative work on the Child and Family Services Act ended with aboriginal participants being locked out of drafting the final legislation, she said, adding not a single one of the over 200 aboriginal recommendations made it into the final paper.

Currently, First Nations are still waiting for the results of the territory’s unfinished review of the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act, which aboriginal governments have worked on for four years.

“We have gone out of our way to try and work with this Yukon government for the eight years that they have been in and the only time we have had success is when it’s their agenda items that they want to push,” said Massie.

The council and individual chiefs will not officially endorse any specific party, but they will support any party that is willing to work with them, they said.

And the power of aboriginal electors should not be trivialized, they said.

“The aboriginal votes amount to 25 per cent of voters in the Yukon,” said Chief James Allen of the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations. “The last figures we have are that there’s 20,000 voters in the Yukon. So 5,000 votes from aboriginals can be significant. It can make a difference, and I think to ignore the First Nations people will be the downfall of the people that are running.”

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