Montreal – If Canadians are serious about reconciliation, they need to learn more about First Nations self-government. A new paper from the Centre of Excellence on the Canadian Federation calls for that education to centre on Yukon, which has been at the forefront of Indigenous treaty-making since the 1970s.
Currently, 11 of Yukon’s 14 First Nations have land claims and self-government agreements, accounting for almost half of the total in Canada. By redefining the relationship between First Nations and non-First Nations people, these agreements have fundamentally altered Yukon society for the better.
The Yukon agreements, which have been called the most progressive integration of management, resources, and people anywhere in the world, could — and should — serve as a prototype for all modern treaties, says the paper’s author, York University politics professor Gabrielle Slowey.
“Unfortunately, most of Canada remains quite unaware of the benefit that self-government brings to First Nations communities. It would be shameful if such ignorance is allowed to continue,” she notes.
Thanks to these agreements, a generation of Yukon youth has grown up not knowing what it means to live under the yoke of the Indian Act. However, there are some in that generation who are not aware of the struggles that their parents, aunts, uncles, and grandparents endured in setting the stage for the push toward self-government or what they had to do to get there.
As a result of hands-on treaty-making simulation exercises taking place in Yukon, that is changing. Slowey recently had the chance to witness this transfer of the elder generation’s knowledge when she joined one of these events. Designed to help Yukon youth understand why the agreements were negotiated and what they mean to First Nations in the territory, the participants had an opportunity to meet former negotiators and engage in a mock treaty negotiation and implementation.
The gathering, held in Whitehorse in late 2019, was an eye-opening experience for all involved, and marked a critical step in the future of the treaty process — sharing knowledge about how First Nations achieved self-government, and educating a new generation of leaders, negotiators and implementers.
That simulation exercise has led to similar workshops being held across Canada, and more are being planned for specific agreements that are in the works.
“It is my hope that through hands-on experiences gained in these simulation exercises, younger generations will be encouraged not only to learn about their communities’ self-government agreements, but to use these treaties as a tool for addressing broader issues, like climate change and global pandemics,” says Slowey.
Indigenous self-government in Yukon: Looking for Ways to Pass the Torch, by Gabrielle A. Slowey, can be downloaded from the website of the Centre for Excellence on the Canadian Federation (centre.irpp.org).
The Centre of Excellence on the Canadian Federation is a permanent research body within the Institute for Research on Public Policy. Its mission is to build a deeper understanding of Canada as a federal community.
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