Whitehorse Daily Star

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Photo by Vince Fedoroff

A NEW PARTNERSHIP – Premier Sandy Silver, Grand Chief Peter Johnston, Carolynn Bennett, the minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, and Yukon MP Larry Bagnell (left-right) answer questions following the Intergovernmental Forum in Whitehorse Thursday.

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Photo by Vince Fedoroff

NEW RELATIONSHIP – Peter Johnston and Carolyn Bennett speak after the Intergovernmental Forum. First Nations, territorial and federal leaders discussed Bill C-17, transfer payments to self-governing First Nations, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's recommendations and the Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women.

Federal minister attends Intergovernmental Forum

Canada needs

By Sidney Cohen on March 17, 2017

Canada needs “more and more First Nations to get out from under the Indian Act and become self-governing,” said the federal Indigenous and Northern Affairs minister Thursday, adding that the Yukon is a “total inspiration” to the rest of the country.

Carolyn Bennett was in Whitehorse for the Intergovernmental Forum, a meeting of First Nations, territorial and federal leaders.

The day’s big takeaway, said Grand Chief Peter Johnston of the Council of Yukon First Nations, was a commitment from the federal government to renew financial transfer agreements to the seven self-governing First Nations whose agreements were set to expire on March 31.

The Government of Canada funds Yukon self-governing First Nations so they may provide services to their citizens at levels “reasonably comparable” to services available in other parts of the territory.

In addition to funding essential programs and services that would otherwise be administered by territorial and federal governments, the self-government financial transfer agreements help pay for the operations of First Nations governments, and the implementation of self-governing agreements.

“Those are the bloodlines for the success of our people,” said Johnston of the financial transfer agreements. “Those are the opportunities that our younger generation, our future generations, are going to have in order to build success for them and their families going forward.”

Self-government financial transfer agreements are periodically reviewed and renegotiated. Johnston said it’s critical that Ottawa provide certainty about how money will flow to self-governing First Nations.

“It’s been shown, report after report, that we’re heavily underfunded,” said Johnston, adding that First Nation governments continue to rely on other funding mechanisms to fill gaps in program and service delivery.

Transfer agreements with the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations, the First Nation of Nacho Nyäk Dun, the Teslin Tlingit Council, the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation, the Selkirk First Nation, the Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation and the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in are due to expire at the end of this fiscal year.

However, these governments received confirmation Thursday that their federal funding agreements will continue, and allow governments to carry on “business as usual,” said Johnston.

The grand chief said the federal government is giving self-governing First Nations a clean slate for future financial transfer agreement negotiations.

A fresh start will allow First Nations governments to incorporate elements, such as housing, into transfer agreements that previously weren’t there, he said.

While self-governing First Nations do miss out on certain funding arrangements available to Indian Act First Nations, in Johnston’s view, First Nations with final and self-governing agreements are still better off.

“Our reality here in the territory, we are farther ahead than most nations in Canada,” he said.

Though they were invited, the Liard First Nation, the Ross River Dena Council and the White River First Nation did not attend the Intergovernmental Forum.

The three First Nations do not have land claim and self-government agreements.

Leaders also discussed the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in Thursday’s closed-door meeting, though no commitments were made to fund implementation of the dozens of recommendations aimed at provinces and territories.

During the territorial election campaign last fall, the Yukon Party vowed to put $3.5 million toward implementing the TRC Calls to Action, and $1.5 million to prevent violence against indigenous women and girls. The Yukon Liberal government is making no such promises.

“We’re in budget conversations right now,” said Premier Sandy Silver, adding that his government inherited a deficit from its Yukon Party predecessor.

Still, said Silver, “we will have numbers that will be within the spirit of our campaign commitments.”

The Liberals made no dollar commitments to TRC implementation, or to the prevention of violence against indigenous women and girls, during the campaign.

“We didn’t do the grandiose promise thing, as far as dollar values,” said Silver, but said his government will be making “concrete actions on these files, because they’re so important to how we move forward as a region, here in the Yukon.”

When asked if the federal government would offer the Yukon funding to assist with implementing the TRC recommendations, or preventing violence against indigenous women and girls, Bennett was evasive.

She listed off some of her department’s priorities: housing, education and child welfare reform.

“These are very big issues that we will do in partnership with First Nations and the territorial government, and we are very receptive to work in that partnership,” she said.

Bennett noted Thursday that a substantial number of victims and perpetrators of violence against indigenous women and girls have some connection to the child welfare system.

The Canadian government is currently embroiled in a human rights dispute with the Assembly of First Nations and the non-profit First Nations Caring Society of Canada over the underfunding of child welfare services on reserves.

In January 2016, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruled the federal government is racially discriminating against on-reserve First Nations children and their families by not providing them with child welfare services equal to those available off-reserve, where services are administered by the provinces and the Yukon.

Since the tribunal’s decision, the Canadian government has failed to comply with three orders and end its discrimination against First Nations children and families, according to the Caring Society.

Though the Yukon government is responsible for child welfare everywhere in the Yukon, including in First Nations communities with, and without, self-governing agreements, the system is not perfect, Pat Living, a spokesperson for Health and Social Services, said Thursday.

For example, she explained, children who are removed from their homes sometimes have to leave their communities because there is no one to provide short-term foster care.

Child welfare, however, was not discussed at the Intergovernmental Forum.

Regarding delays to the missing and murdered women inquiry, Bennett said Ottawa is not waiting for its conclusion to work with First Nations and provincial and territorial governments to address the root causes of violence against indigenous women and girls.

Yukon MP Larry Bagnell announced yesterday that Bill C-17, which will repeal the four contentious amendments to the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act made in Bill S-6, is expected to go before Parliament in the next 10 days.

Silver said it’s important that C-17 passes without amendments.

“When I first started in politics, that’s when S-6 was starting,” said Silver.

“We’ve spent five years going down a road that has not helped our economy and it’s not lost on anyone in the room today that our GDP reflects that type of governance style.”

The Yukon Chamber of Mines recently came out in support of the bill.

With support from the chamber, said Silver, it’s going to be hard for the House and the Senate to oppose C-17.

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