Yukon government, CYFN reach agreement on resource royalty rates

The territorial government and self-governing First Nations say they've reached a new deal in regards to royalty payments for mining and oil and gas, ending a four-year negotiation during which payments were withheld.

Deal includes $600K 'gesture' payment from Yukon government to First Nations governments

Grand Chief Peter Johnston of the Council of Yukon First Nations spoke about the Implementation Agreement on May 7 outside the Yukon Forum (Philippe Morin/CBC)

The Council of Yukon First Nations (CYFN) and the Yukon government say they've resolved a longstanding dispute about resource royalties.

Exact details are still unclear, but both sides say they're happy with the deal. 

They say First Nations will be getting a greater share without companies having to pay a higher rate.

Premier Sandy Silver and CYFN Grand Chief Peter Johnston co-announced the agreement on Monday at the Yukon Forum, a periodic meeting between Indigenous leaders and the territorial government. 

They said it marks an end to years of dispute over the way royalty rates are calculated.

"We want to move forward when it comes to the resources and self-governing. We want to make sure that everyone is at the table," said Silver. 

The deal comes amid renewed interest in mining in Yukon.

Disagreements over what Umbrella Final Agreement meant

Eleven self-governing First Nations in Yukon are governed under the Umbrella Final Agreement. 

Chapter 23 of that document already outlines when royalties should be paid to First Nations, by what percentages and how such payments are to be distributed for both settlement and commissioner's land. 

The text of the Umbrella Final Agreement will not change.

However, there have been some disagreements over the years as to interpretation of the formulas, which both sides now say have been resolved.  

The new deal is called the "Chapter 23 Implementation Agreement." 

"Yukon and the First Nations have had differing views for several years on the methods by which the aggregate amount of Crown Royalty to be shared under Chapter 23 should be determined," the agreement states.

Both sides now say they've reached a common understanding of the UFA chapter and its funding formulas. 

The deal comes amid renewed interest in mining in Yukon. (Capstone Mining)

Yukon's Aboriginal Relations branch of the Executive Council Office says payment on some royalties had been postponed since 2014 as negotiations on the matter continued.  

The new document says royalties will be paid retroactively from 2014 but also includes a caveat that the territory admits no fault. 

"This Agreement nor any provision of this Agreement constitutes any admission of liability on the part of Yukon," it reads.

CBC has asked for clarification as to exactly what will change. 

An email from the Yukon government's Executive Council Office states that "the Government of Yukon and self-governing Yukon First Nations have agreed not to deduct resource royalties produced from 'encumbering rights' on Settlement Land from the resource royalties shared with self-governing Yukon First Nations."

Deal includes 'gesture' payment of $600K

The amount of royalties at stake is relatively small, at least for now.

From 2014 to 2017, the combined total amount First Nations will retroactively receive is $36,110.71, after changes, which the government says marks an increase of more than $24,000. This will be divided among the 11 First Nations with final agreements — so, each will receive a few thousand dollars. 

However, the agreement also comes with an additional $600,000 payment from the Yukon government.

Silver called it "a gesture" in the spirit of reconciliation. 

"To recognize the time and effort First Nations have been putting into resolving this issue, we've also agreed to a one-time payment," Silver said.

The one-time payment is not tied to any specific measurable goal. It can be considered general revenue which will be divided among the self-governing Yukon First Nations.  

"It's just a symbolic number that came up from the negotiations with the governments. To make a gesture that we want to move forward when it comes to the resources and self-governing," Silver said.  

Yukon's Aboriginal Relations branch of the Executive Council Office says the money was accounted for in the 2017-18 territorial budget, though is not separately listed as its own line item. 

First Nations need the funding, says Grand Chief  

Johnston said self-governing First Nations are glad to see the money. 

He said they are "overtaxed" with trying to provide services such as housing in communities, and need the revenue.

"The governments have already identified a number of places that we could use that support," he said, adding that staff may be hired to "help First Nations navigate through a lot of these processes that we're currently involved with."

"Right now, we have the end goal in sight and we need the support in order to get there," he said.

Other issues discussed at the Yukon Forum this week included mental health care, barriers to First Nations' participation in business (such as excessive reporting paperwork for grants) and the long-term goals for self-governing First Nations to "download" responsibility for federally-funded services.