Whitehorse Daily Star

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LANDMARK AGREEMENT SIGNED – Ruth Massie (centre), the Council of Yukon First Nations’ grand chief, signs the agreement Friday. Looking on are Premier Darrell Pasloski and Carolyn Bennett, the minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs. Chief Eric Fairclough of the Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation is standing, fourth from the left.

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Steve Smith

Controversial Bill S-6 amendments to be repealed

The federal government will work to repeal four controversial amendments to the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act, the minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs announced Friday.

By Sidney Cohen on April 11, 2016

The federal government will work to repeal four controversial amendments to the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act, the minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs announced Friday.

Carolyn Bennett was in Whitehorse for the Intergovernmental Forum. She met with Ruth Massie, the Council of Yukon First Nations’ grand chief, Premier Darrell Pasloski and chiefs of 11 self-governing First Nations.

At the forum, the group signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to repeal four amendments to YESSA made last June under Bill S-6.

YESSA lays out the process by which all lands in the Yukon are assessed for development and is part of the Umbrella Final Agreement between Yukon First Nations governments, the territorial government and the federal government.

Bill S-6 arose from a review of YESSA, which was completed in 2012, and included four amendments to the Act that Yukon First Nations governments said undermined the Umbrella Final Agreement and violated land claim agreements.

In 2014, three First Nation governments – Teslin Tlingit Council, Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation and Champagne and Aishihik First Nations – filed a lawsuit with the Yukon Supreme Court challenging those four amendments.

“We from the beginning did not think (Bill S-6) respected the final agreements,” Bennett told media after the forum.

She commended Yukon MP Larry Bagnell’s efforts in bringing concerns about S-6 to the attention of Ottawa.

“I’m very grateful that he was very much part of underlining the wishes of the chiefs and making sure that we were on the same page as the grand chief and the First Nations,” she said.

Revised legislation will be drafted in collaboration with all the governments involved and, Chief Eric Fairclough of the Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation said this legislation will be proposed in the House of Commons by June 23.

“The NDP and the Liberals both supported Yukon First Nations in their efforts to get rid of these four contentious amendments that were brought forward by the Conservative Party,” said Fairclough.

“I’d like to thank the minister for following through.... True to their word, they said they were going to repeal these four contentious amendments, and they did so, or will do so.”

Fairclough added that the First Nations governments will set aside their court case until the legislation is passed, and once that happens, they will drop the lawsuit.

One of the controversial S-6 amendments allowed the federal government to give binding policy direction to the Yukon Environmental Assessment Board, the arm’s-length agency responsible for carrying out environmental assessments as per YESSA, and which is meant to operate independently of government.

Other amendments have to do with a transfer of certain federal powers to the Yukon government, the exemption of projects up for renewal from additional review by the board (First Nations have argued that some projects require new review over time because they are affected by climate change), and the timelines for assessments.

“These provisions fundamentally undermine our final agreements, and drove self-governing First Nations to seek legal remedy,” said Chief Steve Smith of the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations.

“This happened in part because we were not respected as being legitimate governments and as partners of this great confederation.

“The MOU is an encouraging start, however there is a lot of work left to be done to reset the relationship between Canada, Yukon and Yukon First Nations for our development process, and consequently our land claim and self-government.”

The premier shifted blame for the disputed amendments to former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper government. (Visiting Whitehorse in 2015, Harper said the Pasloski government had pushed for the amendments in the first place.)

“The Yukon government provided their comments and provided their recommendations,” Pasloski said. “Ultimately, this was fed legislation,” he said.

“It was the current federal government at that time that produced the bill that was tabled and subsequently passed through the Senate and the House of Commons.”

Pasloski added that as “the public government in the territory, we will not be a barrier” to repealing the four amendments.

Other subjects that came up during the forum included the inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women and girls, and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC’s) 94 calls to action.

Pasloski said that when the TRC released its Final Report, he asked his government what work has already been done.

“I asked the government departments to look at what is applicable to Yukon and what kind of work have we done,” he said at the press conference following the forum.

“There is a considerable amount of work done – now it’s not done yet – but that was the next step then, was to share that work with the First Nations and agree that the First Nations should lead this path forward. What has come out of that is a framework that we have now provided to the federal government, and an ask to help move forward from this point.”

Pasloski did not specify what the framework entailed, nor what specific calls to action have been, or would be, implemented by the Yukon government.

The Intergovernmental Forum is a place for First Nations, federal and territorial government leaders to build relationships and to discuss common interests and areas of concern, such as land claims and self-government agreements.

The forum is supposed to take place every six months, but Friday’s forum was the first in six years.

The intergovernmental forum was held the same day as the Yukon Forum, where the territorial government and Yukon First Nations governments talked about issues that matter to all groups represented.

Neither forum was open to the public.

Three First Nations were absent from the day’s meetings.

“We are very keen that we will come back in six months,” said Bennett.

“We think that when people sit down you can find a win-win, and that’s what we're attempting to do.”

“This relationship has to be based on a recognition of rights, respect, cooperation and partnership, and that’s the only way we can go forward.”

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