Yukon’s new bureaucrats brainstorm at conference

First Nation policy wonks tried to tackle one of Yukon self-governments' most pressing hurdles in Whitehorse this week: finding adequate staff.

First Nation policy wonks tried to tackle one of Yukon self-governments’ most pressing hurdles in Whitehorse this week: finding adequate staff.

Yukon self-governments, which are in their infancy compared to federal and territorial peers, need more experts on the art of governance—people who know the dos and don’ts of setting up new power regimes.

The progress of these new institutions depends on it, and conferences, like First Nation Governance: Building on Experience, are meant to foster an exchange in ingenuity between the Yukon’s dozen or so self-governments.

“Governments know the capacity challenges we have,” said John Burdek, an assistant deputy minister on government liaison and development at the Executive Council Office.

The problem isn’t easy. Yukon self-governments are distinct from each other but face similar problems in hiring and keeping the right talent. So the big question is how can these little guys band together on common problems and centralize expertise.

The Self-Government Secretariat, which launched a new website with online resources last fall, is meant to break some of the isolation on everything from writing legislation to managing personnel. Other shared expertise includes language protection and statistical data, said Burdek.

And that’s the other barrier to providing good government – there aren’t enough reliable facts on the needs and conditions of First Nation life in the North.

“There is a research gap,” said Ashley Sisco, a research associate with the Conference Board of Canada, an Ottawa-based think tank.

The Conference Board wants to provide top-notch statistical tools with its newly opened Centre for the North in Yellowknife. The centre will offer help to governments, which want to interpret data on health, sovereignty, security and other topics of interest, said Sisco.

The multimillion-dollar centre wants to refine the use of statistics in the North so that First Nation communities can have a better sense of the pros and cons of economic development too, she said.

“We want to look at how a community describes ‘thriving,’” said Sisco. “We don’t want to be defining it from down south.”