There are 14 First Nations in Yukon. Eleven of these nations are self-governing, while the remaining three are governed under the Indian Act. The 11 self-governing First Nations have legislative and executive powers much like a province or territory. In 1993, they signed the Umbrella Final Agreement (UFA) with the governments of Canada and Yukon. The UFA served as the foundation for individual self-governing agreements made between each First Nation and the territorial and federal governments. These individual agreements were signed between 1993 and 2006. (See also Comprehensive Land Claims.) While the focus of this article is the 11 self-governing First Nations, the remaining three First Nations in Yukon are White River, Liard and Ross River.
Between 1993 and 2006, the 11 First Nations, using the UFA as the foundation, negotiated First Nation-specific agreements with the territorial and federal governments. These agreements selected areas of land and added unique features important to specificFirst Nations. For example, the Kluane First Nation negotiated a wild sheep harvest tag in the agreement as an economic development measure. These hunts sell at auction for significant value to the First Nation. Some agreements took more time due totheir complexity. Kwanlin Dün First Nation and the Ta’an Kwäch’än Council, for example, both based in the Whitehorse area, needed to address their relationship with the City ofWhitehorse in addition to the other levels of government.
In 1993, four First Nations finalized agreements: Champagne and Aishihik First Nations, First Nation of Na-Cho Nyäk Dun, Teslin Tlingit Council and Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation.In 1997, Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation and the Selkirk First Nation finalized their agreements, followed by the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in First Nation in 1998. The remaining four First Nations signed agreements in the early 2000s: Ta’an Kwäch’än Councilin 2002, Kluane First Nation in 2003, Kwanlin Dün First Nation in 2005 and Carcross/Tagish First Nation in 2006.
I believe the future, or the children of tomorrow, is the “intent” of the final agreements. Working together in pursuit of prosperous, harmonious possibility is the “spirit.” The Yukon remains young. It is still coming into its own as a unique place ofgovernance and aspiration. Yukon First Nations are actively reconnecting to and revitalizing their culture, language and way of life. Now the struggle is to find the balance between the ancestor’s way and the modern way, both in terms of daily life, but also in terms of governance. Fortunately, the healing path towards independence is held in our stories, our land and our languages. The ancestors provided the tools. It is up to us to wield them.
- Author Jocelyn Joe-Strack, Wolf Clan, Champagne and Aishihik First Nation
Both the UFA and the nation-specific final agreements express a vision for the co-management of governance. Academics and Indigenous signatories often describe this vision as part of the “spirit and intent” of modern treaties. There are many interpretationsof modern treaties’ spirit and intent. With respect to the Yukon, a notable example came in a decision made by the Supreme Court of Canada in 2017. Several parties,including the First Nation of Na-Cho Nyäk Dun, Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in and Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation, brought a case concerning the Peel Watershed in northeastern Yukon. In creating aland use plan for the area, the First Nations argued that the territorial government had not followed the consultation process laid out in their final agreements. The Supreme Court supported the First Nations’ argument. “The UFA is a model for reconciliation,”the judges wrote. “This framework establishes institutions for self-government and the management of lands and resources. The Final Agreements falling under the UFA are intended to foster a positive and mutually respectful long-term relationship betweenthe signatories…In this way, the Final Agreements must address past grievances, and yet are orientated towards the future.”
The Yukon’s 11 self-governing First Nations have their own self-government agreements. These recognize their right to develop their own constitutions, and pass laws for their own settlement land and citizens. For example, nations may enact policy forland management, justice, or education. Each nation has created or embraced a different model of governance.
Selection of chief and councillors is mostly through popular election, but that’s not always the case. Some First Nations, like the Teslin Tlingit Council, recognize the authority of their clans (Kukhhittan, Ishkitan, Yanyedi, Deshitan and Dakhlawedi)to appoint members to both the executive council and the general council. First Nation representatives sit on land claims boards and in leadership positions within the Yukon Government. Yukon First Nations are key contributors, as envisioned in Together Today for our Children Tomorrow,to the Yukon’s economy. They have leadership roles in energy innovation, land and resource management, and education.