The Teslin Tlingit Council in southern Yukon has signed a historic agreement to run its own justice system, allowing the self-governing First Nation to enact its own laws and set up its own court.


View Larger Map

Teslin Tlingit Chief Peter Johnston signed the Administration of Justice Agreement with federal Indian and Northern Affairs Minister John Duncan and Yukon Premier Dennis Fentie at a ceremony Monday in Teslin.

"The Teslin Tlingit Council now has the legislative, executive and judicial powers over its self-government jurisdictions, enabling us to further enshrine the Tlingit way of life into everything we do," Johnston said in a release.

"We look forward to working with Canada, Yukon and our citizens to continue advancing our social, economic and constitutional visions."

Peacemaker court to be created

The agreement allows the First Nation to enact its own laws in a variety of areas, including wildlife protection, control of the First Nation's settlement land, controlling overcrowding of homes, local zoning and planning, adoption, the solemnization of marriages and wills and inheritances, according to the release.

The First Nation will establish a "peacemaker court" to prosecute violations of its legislation, impose penalties and resolve disputes based on traditional Teslin Tlingit processes.

As well, the First Nation will set up its own corrections programs and services for those who receive sentences from the peacemaker court.

The Teslin Tlingit will not take over criminal law cases or matters under federal jurisdiction, such as national security, according to federal officials.

Agreement sets precedent in Yukon

Teslin is located about 150 kilometres southeast of Whitehorse, on the shores of Teslin Lake near the Yukon-British Columbia border. The Teslin Tlingit Council's traditional territory spans about 1,100 square kilometres.

The Teslin Tlingit becomes the first among Yukon's 11 self-governing First Nations to sign a justice agreement with the territorial and federal governments.

As part of the Umbrella Final Agreement, which was signed by the federal, Yukon and First Nation governments in 1993, the parties have committed to reaching justice agreements with each self-governing First Nation.

The Teslin Tlingit's justice system will not only apply to its own citizens — regardless of where they are in Yukon — but also to non-citizens who are visiting or residing on Teslin Tlingit traditional lands.

First Nation to have greater say

The agreement calls for startup funds of $252,000, as well as continuing implementation funding of $395,000 a year.

Tlingit elders who spoke at Monday's signing ceremony said the First Nation's younger people will have to pay much more respect to their elders and to the community, now that the First Nation will have a greater say over how people will be sentenced under the new legislation.

The First Nation has already drafted legislation governing the peacemaker court and local corrections procedures. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms will apply to the peacemaker court, according to federal officials.

The Teslin Tlingit Council's new legislation is expected to come into effect in the next six months.

With files from the CBC's Leonard Linklater