Yukon celebrates 50th anniversary of watershed self governance meeting

 By Ashley Joannou


WHITEHORSE- For Peter Johnston, Grand Chief of the Council of Yukon First Nations, the history of the territory’s modern self-government agreements runs in his blood.

On Feb. 14, 1973, his father, Sam Johnston, former chief of the Teslin Tlingit Council, was part of a delegation of Yukon First Nations leaders who flew to Ottawa to present then-prime minister Pierre Trudeau with a document laying out both grievances and a proposed plan to for the future.

Five decades later, it was Prime Minister Justin Trudeau who flew across the country, coming to Whitehorse as part of a weeklong celebration marking the anniversary of the historic meeting.

The document, titled Together Today for Our Children Tomorrow, launched decades of negotiations that culminated in the territory’s Umbrella Final Agreement in 1993, a landmark moment in Canadian Indigenous rights, and individual self-government agreements for First Nations.

“We now have the jurisdiction, the autonomy, the ability now, to rewrite our own policy based on our own value system, our own priorities, and the way we see it as First Nation people,” Johnston said.

“And that’s the beauty of what Together Today for Our Children Tomorrow provides us now.”

Self-government agreements allow, among other powers, for First Nations to enact laws in respect of their lands and citizens, to tax and to manage or co-manage lands and resources.

“We want to take part in the development of the Yukon and Canada, not stop it,” reads Together Today for Our Children Tomorrow.

“But we can only participate as Indians. We will not sell our heritage for a quick buck or a temporary job.”

Trudeau told a dinner for First Nations leadership Sunday that first meeting with the delegation “set the path for so much of what we refer to as reconciliation today.”

“That vision that they had shapes not just the Yukon, it shapes our whole country. That meeting helped lay the foundations for modern treaties that have benefited First Nations across the country,” he said.

“Five decades later, modern treaties have provided Indigenous ownership of 600,000 square kilometres of land _ that’s about the size of Manitoba _ capital transfers of about $3.2 billion, participation in land and resource management decisions, self-government rights, political recognition, and of course protection of traditional ways of life.”

In a statement, Yukon Premier Ranj Pillai called Together Today for Our Children Tomorrow a “forward-looking document articulated a vision for a fair and just future where First Nations people would be equals in Yukon’s society,  economy and governance.”

Johnston said he feels a responsibility that comes with his connection to Yukon history.

“When we look at the opportunity for me to now meet the prime minister in my capacity, I think things come full circle and we have to honour the fact that he has taken the time and recognizes the significance of today,” he said.


This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 13, 2023.



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