Chapter 5 – Yukon Indigenous Peoples and Governance
For over twenty years, dedicated Yukon First Nations leaders from all of Yukon’s First Nation communities, the Federal Government and, later in the journey, the Territorial Government, negotiated to complete the Umbrella Final Agreement (UFA), which was signed in 1993. Early on there were two agreements in principle that were voted down because they did not meet the requirements of Indigenous communities before the final agreement was finally signed. Prior to the UFA, there were no signed and implemented treaties in Yukon. This agreement was different than in other parts of Canada, as the Canadian and territorial governments were not bound to historic agreements written and signed hundreds of years earlier. Unlike other Indigenous peoples in Canada who, according to the Canadian government, had signed away specific rights to the land and governance, Yukon Indigenous peoples had not.
The UFA is a framework document that all 14 Yukon First Nations negotiated and agreed to use as the structure for finalizing their individual First Nation Final Agreements (see section A Dynamic Future, Figure 5.2). The Umbrella Final Agreement “itself is not a legally binding document” (Council of Yukon First Nations, Yukon Government 1997, p. 4). It is a political agreement made between Yukon First Nations, the Government of Canada and the Government of Yukon (Council of Yukon First Nations 2019). The UFA lays out overarching provisions which are found in all Yukon First Nation Final Agreements. These provisions include: criteria on eligibility and enrolment, lands set aside, tenure and management of settlement lands, access, expropriation, surface rights board, settlement land amount, special management areas, land use planning, development assessment, heritage, water management, boundaries and measurements, fish and wildlife, forest resources, non-renewable resources, financial compensation, taxation, taxation of settlement land, economic development measures, resources royalty sharing, Yukon Indian self-government, transboundary agreements, dispute resolution, and implementation (Canada 1993). Each individual First Nation Final Agreement must include the above provisions, but each Nation is also able to modify the required provisions to suit their particular needs. These modifications are found in individual Final Agreements (see the next section). The parties negotiated land claims and self-governance at the same time. Importantly, when an “Indian Act band ceases to exist and is succeeded by the self-governing Yukon First Nation” they become “a legal entity having the capacity and powers of a natural person, including the ability to enter contracts and hold property” (Government of Canada 2003:9).
A vital aspect of the UFA is the involvement of Yukon First Nations in public government institutions. Together Today for Our Children Tomorrow specified the need for Indigenous representation on all Yukon boards and agencies, “to make sure that land policies will be planned with the interests of the Indian people” (1977:33). Within the individual First Nation Final Agreements there were are a number of public government boards and committees created. Today, these have extensive authority, such as the Renewable Resources Councils (RRCs), which manage fish, wildlife, and lands. Other boards and councils require Yukon First Nations representation, and these representatives often make up to 50 percent of the seats at the table. These include: the Yukon Heritage Resources Board, the Yukon Water Board, the Yukon Surface Rights Board, and the Yukon Land Use Planning Council. These boards and councils can provide recommendations to the Minister, the affected Yukon First Nation, and boards and sub-committees on issues that relate to the public’s interest.