Four Yukon First Nations marked 20 years of self-government last night at a celebration in Whitehorse.

Two decades ago, agreements were signed between the Yukon government and the Na-Cho Nyak Dun, Champagne Aishihik, Teslin Tlingit Council and Vuntut Gwitchin First Nations.

'How far we've come when the premier of our territory dresses like us.' - Steve Smith

Though many at the celebration reflected on the past 20 years, others looked even further back and to the road ahead.

Kristina Kane, Chief of the Ta'an Kwäch'än Council spoke of the importance of preserving culture and heritage.

"We Yukon first nations should be immensely proud our people have survived hundreds of years of social disruption and forces of oppression that were trying to ultimately assimilate and eradicate us. And yet here we are. We have endured," she said. 

Darrell Pasloski

Yukon Premier Darrell Pasloski spoke at Thursday night's event wearing a traditional vest. (Philippe Morin)

Yukon Premier Darrell Pasloski spoke to the crowd wearing a buckskin vest decorated with bead work.

After the premier's address, Steve Smith, Chief of the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations said the premier's clothing was an important symbol.  

"When the first chiefs went down (to Ottawa) they were busy trying to get suit jackets, shirts and ties. They wanted to dress the part to meet with the government of Canada. How far we've come when the premier of our territory dresses like us." 

Looking to the future

Carl Sidney, Chief of the Teslin Tlingit Council, said many promises of self-government are still unfulfilled.

"It is our dream and our hope that within another 20 years, we can have what we negotiated 20 years ago. Which is a government recognized by the other governments in Canada, and that our youth will be recognized and given all the opportunities that were envisioned when we started negotiating 30 years ago," he said. 

"I could remember when people always talked about how rich we'll be when our land claims are all settled. And yet our people are still waiting," he said. 

AFN representative mentions court battles

Speaking to the crowd, Mike Smith, Assembly of First Nations regional chief, recalled a recent meeting between Yukon First Nations Chiefs and the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs Bernard Valcourt.

"When the chiefs went to Ottawa not to long ago, they met with the minister of aboriginal affairs and he said you are not real governments. This was a total shock to our chiefs," he said. 

"The government signed our agreement, but they forgot about it the second day. Today we're in court on land use planning. Tomorrow we're going to go to court probably on the YESAB just to protect what we have in our agreements," he said. 

Eileen Peter, who works as a heritage officer for the Na-Cho Nyak Dun First Nation in Mayo, mentioned support for protecting the Peel River watershed and received a round of applause. 

"I think we've heard a lot of people mention youth and youth and young people and the children of tomorrow — and we're here," she said. "We have been involved with the Peel case and making our voices heard."  

The anniversary of self-government comes as Yukon First nations are involved in a variety of legal battles with the territorial and federal government including a clash over Bill S-6, a bill to amend the Yukon Socio-Economic and Environmental Assessment Board.