Question from a reader: Self Government
by Tosh Southwick
December 15, 2011
Question from a reader: Tosh can you tell me if you think Self Government is a good thing for Yukon First Nations?
This is not an easy question to answer as there are a lot of factors at play. In my opinion the current Self- Government agreements have put my First Nation in a better place than we were before the agreements, but I don’t think our final agreements have gone far enough or are the answer to all the many issues in a First Nation’s government.
I remember working for my First Nation when we were still an Indian Act band and it was beyond tough. Everything was decided in Ottawa with blanket programs and policies that took very little of our communities uniqueness and specific issues into consideration. We were told what programs to run, how much to pay our staff, who was eligible for what, and the decisions, policies, and programs were almost always a big miss.
When it came time to make a decision on the Final Agreements and vote, for me it was a matter of weighing the pros and cons. It was a big pro that we would be able to make decisions on every aspect of the programs and services offered. I support the idea that the community knows what the community needs better than the INAC office in Ottawa does. I also really liked the fact that we would be responsible for ourselves. The notion of self-sufficiency is important to me and I think the final agreements take a huge step in the right direction. I was and am still concerned that the agreements did not address all the rights of my First Nation, in particular with development in our traditional territory and I was concerned about what would happen in the future if a better deal came along through the courts. In my case my pros list was substantially larger than my cons list so I voted to accept the negotiated agreements.
Looking back, I don’t think my vote would have changed. I still feel like we are farther ahead than we were as an Indian Act band. I do wish we could have put some additional chapters in the Umbrella Final Agreement (UFA) and worked out a better system for a review of the agreements. I don’t think that we have taken full advantage of the agreements yet and a lot of that comes from a lack of capacity. It also really concerns me that the agreements that we all worked so hard to negotiate aren’t always respected or followed. In fact, I think we have lost track of a number of the intentions of the agreements and we often get bogged down in specific interpretation of words. So the situation isn’t ideal by any means but when I attend our annual General Assembly and I see a piece of legislation that our people wrote for themselves and our community it makes me proud.
So my answer is this: based on what I’ve seen in existence for First Nations governments in Canada, I think the Self-Government agreements are a positive for First Nations and really for all Yukoners.