'Auspicious day' as Vuntut Gwitchin rejoins Council of Yukon First Nations

A decade after parting ways, the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation and the Council of Yukon First Nations (CYFN) are giving things another go. The First Nation has rejoined the umbrella organization, as an associate member.

First Nation parted ways with CYFN in 2008, citing discontent with organization's leadership

Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation Chief Dana Tizya-Tramm and Council of Yukon First Nations Grand Chief Peter Johnston in Whitehorse on Wednesday. (Kaila Jefferd-Moore/CBC)

A decade after parting ways, the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation and the Council of Yukon First Nations (CYFN) are giving things another go. The First Nation has rejoined CYFN as an associate member.

"It's a very auspicious day," said Vuntut Gwitchin Chief Dana Tizya-Tramm, at a news conference in Whitehorse on Wednesday with CYFN Grand Chief Peter Johnston.

"We all know that major innovations, whether it be through technology or throughout society, come from overlapping ideas, not from any one place — and CYFN is that place where all the First Nations are overlapping. This is where innovation happens."

Most of Yukon's First Nations are members of CYFN. The Kwanlin Dün, White River, and Liard First Nations, and the Ross River Dena Council, are not members.

Vuntut Gwitchin members voted at their last general assembly to rejoin CYFN as an associate member. That means the First Nation will participate in discussions among the organization's leaders, but will not be able to vote on resolutions.

"I largely see this as an intermediate step, and I think that my people would like to take this first step before we take the next one," Tizya-Tramm said.

He expects his First Nation to become a full member of CYFN during his term as chief.

Discontent with CYFN in 2008

The Council of Yukon First Nations was established in 1973 to help settle land claims in Yukon.

When that goal was largely accomplished — an umbrella final agreement was signed in 1993, paving the way for members to become self-governing First Nations in the years to follow — the council's focus shifted toward the implementation of the agreements.

Vuntut Gwitchin members voted in 2008 to leave CYFN. Then-Chief Joe Linklater expressed discontent with the organization, saying too much authority was being centralized in the grand chief's office, and promises of openness and accountability had not materialized.

He also said the Vuntut Gwitchin preferred to go it alone in negotiating its federal transfer agreements.

The Vuntut Gwitchin office in Old Crow, Yukon. (Karen McColl/CBC)

Former CYFN Grand Chief Ruth Massie tried to bring the Vuntut Gwitchin back into the fold in 2011, but her overtures were rejected.

Eight years further on, Johnston says it just seems like the right time now.

"It's about us coming together and showing them, proving to them that we are here to help support the implementation of the agreements. We are an advocate," Johnston said.

According to Tizya-Tramm, there wasn't a lot of resistance at the Vuntut Gwitchin general assembly last summer.

"People are curious. Yeah, there's an appetite," he said.

"When it comes to self-governance, we have largely created a lot of certainty around our lands, even within our own organization. And as we share that vision of Canada, it makes absolute sense to engage with CYFN in that meaningful way, and open up that next chapter."

Written by Paul Tukker, with files from Kaila Jefferd-Moore