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Yukon Forum signals 'sea change' for territorial, First Nation relations

The first Yukon Forum under the Liberal government of Premier Sandy Silver delivered a working agreement between Yukon and First Nations' governments amid statements of goodwill from participants.

First Yukon Forum under Liberals produces working agreement

First Nations and the territorial government came to a working agreement described as a 'sea change' in their relationship. (Claudiane Samson/Radio-Canada)

Friday the 13th was an auspicious day for the territorial and First Nations governments in Yukon. 

The first Yukon Forum under the Liberal government of Premier Sandy Silver delivered a working agreement between Yukon and First Nations' governments.

The declaration commits to "the spirit of reconciliation and collaboration" and pledges to produce a joint five-year action plan by April, when the next Yukon Forum takes place.

The Yukon Forum was established under the Yukon Party government, led by Premier Dennis Fentie, in 2006. Its aim was to be a regular venue for frank dialogue between Yukon and First Nations.

But under the increasingly antagonistic relationship that marked the Yukon Party government led former premier Darrell Pasloski, the forum proceeded haltingly — or not at all.

Grand chief calls forum 'greatest day' 

During the fall election campaign, the Liberals' key platform promise was to re-engage with First Nations.

Friday, Silver made good on that plank.

"Things have changed dramatically, 180 degrees," said Council of Yukon First Nations Grand Chief Peter Johnston at the conclusion of Friday's forum.

Grand Chief Peter Johnston calls the change in relationship between the First Nations and Yukon governments a '180-degree' change. (Claudiane Samson/Radio-Canada)

"We as First Nations were able to construct the agenda this time," he said. "We set the format to be culturally sensitive, we opened with ceremony, we definitely had the ear of the government. It was the greatest day."

Silver  echoed that sentiment.

"It was a powerful day," he noted,. "Today [was] a major step towards reconciliation. I think everybody who left that room today shares my optimism."

Four 'big' issues

Besides noting the effusive feeling of goodwill that pervaded the forum, Johnston said there are four specific areas that will dominate discussions at future forums.

They are:

  • Implementing final agreements.
  • Discussing financial transfers, including creating ways for First Nations to create wealth. 
  • The legislative agenda of both the Yukon and First Nations governments.
  • Taking Yukon issues to Ottawa in a partnership between First Nations and Yukon governments. 

'Today the tone changed'

Chief Doris Bill of the Kwanlin Dun First Nation said she is "optimistic" that the future forums will deliver solid results.

"As First Nations chiefs, we've waited a long, long time for a government to come along that is willing to sit down at a table with us that believes we are equal." she said. "Today the tone changed."

Chief Doris Bill says she's optimistic the days of an antagonistic relationship between First Nations and Yukon governments are over. (Claudiane Samson/Radio-Canada)

Both Johnston and Silver emphasized that the three Yukon First Nations that have not signed a final agreement (Liard, Ross River, and White River) are welcome to participate in the forum.

Silver added that as premier he has "an open-door policy...for chiefs coming into my office.'

So with expectations and hopes high, now the work of delivering tangible results begins: the next forums are slated for April, September and December.

About the Author

Nancy Thomson

Raised in Ross River, Yukon, Nancy Thomson is a graduate of Ryerson University's journalism program. Her first job with CBC Yukon was in 1980, when she spun vinyl on Saturday afternoons. She rejoined CBC Yukon in 1993, and focuses on First Nations issues and politics. You can reach her at nancy.thomson@cbc.ca.