After gaining the right to self-governance in 2005, the CTFN has continued to innovate a system of internal management and decision-making rooted in their history and people.
Problems and Purpose
The 2005 Land Grant Agreement reached between the Carcross/Tagish First Nation, the Federal Government of Canada, and the Government of the Yukon Territory provided the Nation with a path towards self-governance and internal management. Since that time, Carcross/Tagish have begun to take back control from the Federal (Colonial) Government by innovating a system of governance rooted in its traditions, history, and people. As part of this process of reclaimation, the Nation has used its new powers of governance to develop people-centred policies in a number of domains, including elders, finance, housing, temporary financial assistance, capacity, and personnel. According to its Mission Statement, the process of self-government is meant to "protect the environment, health, education and aboriginal rights of our people; to continue to preserve and protect our culture and traditions; to protect and develop our natural resources and strengthen our economy and the government of the Carcross/Tagish First Nation for our future generations."
Background History and Context
The Carcross and Tagish First Nation groups have inhabited the Northern rural Yukon territories for centuries. Within these clans, people can fall under two major groupings of family lines, who then break off into six different clans. Under the first grouping, the moiety of the Wolf, there is the Daklaweidi and the Yan Yedi clan. Under the second grouping, the Crow moiety, there is the Deisheetaan, Ganaxtei, Ishkahittaan, and Kookhittaan clans. Families are structured matrilineally, meaning that the clan they will be placed into is descended from the mother, not the father. Within their culture, spirituality is a staple element, and hunting, fishing, trapping, and gathering traditional medicines, as well as access to spiritually significant land is crucial for connection to history and culture (Origin of the Clans, n.d.).
While the C/TFN have had small interactions with settlers from times of colonialism, it was not until someone of the Tagish first nation discovered gold in the harsh Yukon terrain, sparking the Klondike Gold Rush in 1898, that the C/TFN would have its first in-depth interaction with colonists. Due to its resource richness, access to gold, other precious minerals, oil, etc. the land that the C/TFN inhabited was seen as extremely valuable. As such it was quickly divided up between the C/TFN and the Canadian government under the Indian Act. This Act is historically recognized as not favoring the rights of First Nations, imposing on the C/TFN harsh cultural restrictions, and forcing the C/TFN into a small reserve territory away from majority of their very culturally relevant land (Origin of the Clans, n.d.). In tandem with these practises of pushing groups onto reservations, residential schools were created in 1911 in the Carcross region, inflicting some of the most unimaginable abuses on indigenous peoples that one could possibly imagine, resulting in trauma that can still be felt to this day in the community. These conditions pushed conditions for the Aboriginal communities in the Yukon to the bleakest of bleak by the 1960s, with many indigenous communities struggling with racism, poverty, and the aftermath of residential schools (Jensen, 2005).
In response to this, the C/TFN began working on discovering and imputing methods of practicing individual agency, participation, and self government, namely through the construction of the Yukon Native Brotherhood and Yukon Association of Non-status Indians (YANSI), the first steps of the indigenous rights movement in the Yukon. In 1973 the leaders of YANSI went to parliament to begin the negotiating the process for the modern-day treaty. This is important to note, as it was the indigenous who under the Indian Act were classified as ‘non-status’, meaning they did not live on a reserve and so they did not have access to the same things as status indigenous. So, by the YANSI leaders being those to start the process of negotiations, the participation of ‘non-status’ indigenous peoples who were often ignored by the government became intrinsic in the creation of the C/TFN, and all members would ultimately benefit. In 1980, the YANSI and the Yukon Native Brotherhood bonded, creating a unified to represent all Yukon First Nations people and their needs (Jensen, 2005).
The process of moving toward a self-governing system took a massive step forward in 1993 when the council for Yukon Indians, the government of the Yukon, and the government of Canada signed what is known as an ‘umbrella final agreement’ or UFA. The UFA would outline final rights for each indigenous group involved and make these rights protected under Canada’s constitution. This first UFA in 1993 gave the C/TFN tools to make different laws dealing with defining land rights, fishing and hunting rights/management, wildlife conservation and management, resource management, economic development, financial compensation, etc. (What Will Change with Land Claims, 2005). The ultimate goal here is to give the power back to the C/TFN peoples, and put a system of governance in place that existed prior to colonization in which all members of the society has a place and a say in the system of government and regulation over their social, a system that is much more effective in the empowering of indigenous peoples and much more applicable to the very distant and often individual Yukon landscape (Jensen, 2005). The C/TFN officially became structured under a system of self-governance in 2003 (Constitution of the Carcross/Tagish First Nation, 1997).
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
Self-governance is when a government is under the control of the residents of that area instead of a larger and far more external political body. In this context, the political unit is the C/TFN and the external body the is Canadian government. The political unit in question is often one who resides on the social periphery, in which they may not have full access to citizenship rights and those who exist outside of their political status. As such, these units take up self-governance as a way for allowing significantly more personal freedoms and flexibilities, ways to express cultural and spiritual beliefs in a more legitimized and grounded way, and lastly used to garner more agencies for those involved (Self-Government, 2005).
To begin implementing the self-government structure the C/TFN will receive 402 thousand dollars every year, and over 143 thousand dollars a year to support the implementation of a self-government structure, as well as 10 payments of over 199 thousand dollars. As a self-governing nation, the C/TFN will have independence regarding how they want to use the financing. On top of funding provided by the Canadian government, the C/TFN will be able to decide on how to manage natural resources, as well as construct opportunities for tourism as means for economic development (Financial Matters, 2005).
Participant Recruitment and Selection
Within the C/TFN government, people are invited to participate in the institutional space, and as such the clan decides how they want their government to be structured, with great importance being placed on historical, cultural, and spiritual factors. For the C/TFN, all the clans are expected to elect one leader to be their spokesperson. These electorates will also work in tandem as a council with an elected chief in a system of government referred to as the ‘clan system’ (Voting Information, 2005).
In order to be a ‘citizen’ of the C/TFN and as such participate in the self-governing system, one must be a member or an associate member of the C/TFN meaning they hold clan status, or they must be a part of the ‘children of the community’ meaning they are not a member but have often been ‘adopted’ into the community or married into the community. Those who participate in this system are those who are inhabitants of the surrounding territory (The Constitution of the Carcross/Tagish First Nation, 1997).
Under the clan system, there are different levels of citizen involvement. Those who are of direct ancestry are full beneficiaries of the UFA and have full citizenship, considered to be members of the C/TFN. Those who fall under this branch can be appointed to a branch of the clan government, hold the right to speak at meetings, can occupy lands, access any services provided by the government, and have full freedom to hunt/fish in C/TFN territory. The people who hold a special relationship with direct ancestors are known as ‘associate members’ and they may be adopted by the C/TFN and hold all the rights mentioned above, but they cannot be appointed to any branch of government and they may not have full access to participation in council meetings. Lastly, there are the ‘children of the community’ who are those who have been brought into the system, but do not hold any special relationship or claims to citizenship under the C/TFN. This grouping may attend clan meetings and participate, but they ultimately have no say on the passing of legislature or rights to reap the benefits under the C/TFN. All citizens under this system are kept on a list for review by the principal administrative offices of the C/TFN. (The Constitution of the Carcross/Tagish First Nation, 1997).
Methods and Tools Used
The clan system of governance is the primary methodology for the formation of any legislation or any type of decisions to be made in the community. This ‘clan system’ is based off a constitution and rules of citizenship that the C/TFN created. This constitution defines the rules of governance of the primary political body, as well as the rules of citizenship within the society. The objective of these documents is to provide representation for the C/TFN, as well as to bring important cultural histories, like the clan system, to the present to be practiced (The Constitution of the Carcross/Tagish First Nation, 1997).
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
The government is constructed of the Elders Council who are the advisors to the C/TFN government, the Assembly who are the main governing body of the C/TFN and who hold the power to the legislative authority, the Council who is the executive branch of the C/TFN government, and the Justice Council who are responsible for the implementation and regulation of the C/TFN constitution. The clan system governing body is constructed to include all different C/TFN clans in a round table system, to ensure that each clan has an equal representation in the governing process, and all decisions are made through consensus of participating members. The membership and organization of each clan branch is structured based on the traditions and customs of each clan itself, structuring all meetings and political gatherings to make sure the individual customs of each clan are met. In clan meetings, each clan will have a clan house master who will often be the lead speaker in the clan meetings. All council members and representatives are voted into their position through community elections, to keep all systems equitable and just, and all council members must follow the ‘Code of Conduct and Ethics’, and failure to do so can have the appointed member removed from council based on the vote of those in the public (The Constitution of the Carcross/Tagish First Nation).
Under this constitution, agreements on legislation or other factors that need to be passed are put to a vote through the public body. In order to vote on any agreements, you must be a member of the Band or a beneficiary of the C/TFN agreements with the Canadian government, and you must be over the age of 18. People who want to be on the list can challenge the formation of this list by petitioning the Ratification Committee. Due to the population of the C/TFN being very widely dispersed across the very large C/TFN lands, votes and participation by the public are often done via mail, although there are also ballot boxes available. This allows for the participation of those in the community who may not be able to make it to clan meetings or into the ballot boxes (Voting Information, 2005.
In order for anything to be passed, the majority, or 50% +1 of all those entitled to vote and able to vote must vote yes, and for each ballot at least 60% who participated must have voted yes. If a vote does not meet these requirements it will be denied and will go back through the clan system to be reformatted (Voting Information, 2005).
In the system of self-governance, the C/TFN make laws for their own citizens some of which can replace the laws by the Yukon government, but they cannot replace federal laws. These laws apply to all citizens no matter where they are within the Yukon territory. Self-governance also allows the C/TFN to assume the responsibility for the management of services that would normally be provided by the Yukon government, through Programs and Services Transfer Agreements or PSTAs. In this structure the C/TFN is held responsible for providing the services that the Yukon government normally would, such as food programs, education, welfare, and access to healthcare and housing (Self-Government, 2005).
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
Focuses of the C/TFN self-government fall into two primary categories. The first is the indigenous empowerment, which the C/TFN does through activities of participation like clan meetings. On top of this, holding community votes on matters that are relevant to the C/TFN also allows people to be heard within their community, and by their new government. Another way the C/TFN focuses on indigenous agency is through acting as a buffer between the C/TFN public and the Yukon/Canadian government. Through acts of self governance, they are able to voice the realities of and issues within indigeneity in Canada, and work to fix these issues through inputting their own legislation that combats the laws in place by the archaic Indian Act (What Will Change with Land Claims, 2005).
Indigenous communities who have often lost these crucial elements of a happy existence in violent colonial histories have often lost these elements of agency, and often fall completely under the control of the Canadian Indian Act. By being able to return to systems of governance prior to colonization and construct a way of living that is connected to crucial cultural facets, the C/TFN structure of self governance has been able to greatly empower its residents in the dictation of their own person freedoms and language rights (Fallon & Paquette, 2012).
This system does not operate perfectly, however. This is especially evident when looking at the first focus of the system, that being the education implemented by the C/TFN self-government system. While the education system is very important in the sense that it connects largely to cultural elements that cannot be found under the Canadian education system, it also falls short in elements like mathematics or English, often falling below the standards set by the Canadian education system itself. While this is being worked on by the C/TFN government, the process of adjustment will take time before it will reach a sustainable level that is at par with the Canadian system of education (Fallon & Paquette, 2012).
The second focus is on land rights and protection, both for the members of the C/TFN and for the sake of environmental sustainability. Under self-governance and the UFA, the C/TFN gained ownership and management of over 1554 km of Yukon land. Through this, they implemented very strict legislation on lands that fall into their territory, with the intention of protecting the physical and cultural sanctity of their land. The Yukon territory is often a hot spot for business looking to reap cheap minerals, and so many businesses have hold in this region, but in order to actually access any of these materials they must first get the permission of the C/TFN (Land Matters, 2005).
Land to the C/TFN is very important culturally, but it also gives them access to resources such as oil and rare minerals that have the capability to bring in significant financial resources allowing for even more agency and independence. Secondly in this regard, since majority of the legislation connected to land and resource management is based in spiritual and cultural nature, it focuses largely on conservation and protection, meaning that majority of the region is now environmentally protected, with companies or the government who want to use these resources having to get permission from the C/TFN first, and give them a portion of all profit received from such (Land Matters, 2005).
The impact and effect of these systems is the transformative and sustainable implementations of self governance and the creation of equitable and open social spaces, often governed through the public via the representation of the differing members on the council. However, since this system of governance is considerably newer in its formation and development, further research must be done on the effectiveness, sustainability, and the internal politics present in the C/TFN self-governing system.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
In sum, the Carcross/Tagish First Nation is an indigenous tribe organization who also operates under a system of self government. This self government allows the Carcross/Tagish peoples to have a system of participation, empowerment, and control that is directly connected to cultural heritages and landscapes (Self-Government, n.d.). Operating under a ‘clan system’ the C/TFN self government seeks to depart away from the Canadian Indian Act, and to instead move toward a more democratic method, with the goal being to include all those that their constitution defines as citizens within its system equally, holding town councils and votes on important issues frequently so everyone’s voice is heard (The Constitution of the Carcross/Tagish First Nation, 1997). Since community is such a crucial point to the C/TFN, people are often encouraged to be involved in clan meetings through the cultural touchpoint of community involvement and connection. Since it was important for full citizen members of the community to be involved, most participation ideals and practises were pivoted to those who could participate in the council and community meetings, empowering members of the C/TFN who may not have had a chance to have a voice prior (Governance, n.d.).
Secondly to this, the C/TFN seeks to protect land rights for the indigenous peoples, as well as the environmental sanctity of the region through the passing of strict legislation on who can access these lands, and for what they can access it for. Any industry performed on land that falls within the jurisdiction of the C/TFN government must provide a portion of all profits to the tribe, and it must follow the rules set out by the group for extraction of those resources. Between these two key points, the C/TFN has made revolutionary leaps in the direction of development for the C/TFN peoples, and for indigenous rights in Canada, not only through standing up and making their voice heard by the Canadian government, but also through making their own path and passing their own legislature for their peoples (Land Matters, 2005).
While this structure of government has many positive elements, it can also be criticized for creating a hierarchy of citizenship based on the definitions and discretion of the leading governing council. As such, the citizenship in the C/TFN is based on a historical and cultural perspective of who is more or less deserving to have a say in the process of governance, there by creating a complicated and controversial system of enforced hierarchies of governance. This system is one that gives voices to those who are marginalized like the C/TFN indigenous groups, but also creates a grey zone for those who may live in this region but do not qualify for C/TFN citizenship, meaning they could lose their agency in the region where they live. As such, aspects to create a fully just and equal self-government system still must be developed in the newly created C/TFN government, and further research must be done on the long term sustainable effects of the C/TFN self-government system.
Carcross/Tagish First Nation (organization)
"Mission Statement," https://www.ctfn.ca/
Jensen, M. (2005). Our Story A historical reflection of the Carcross/Tagish First Nation’s land claims process [PDF]. Carcross: Ratification Committee for the Carcross/Tagish First Nation Land Claim Agreements.
Ratification Committee for the Carcross/Tagish First Nation Land Claim Agreements. (2005). An Overview of Yukon Land Claims[Brochure]. Author.
Ratification Committee for the Carcross/Tagish First Nation Land Claim Agreements. (2005). Citizenship and Membership in C/TFN[Brochure]. Author.
Fallon, G., & Paquette, J. (2012). A Critical Analysis of Self-Governance Agreements Addressing First-Nations Control of Education in Canada. Canadian Journal of Educational Administration and Policy,1-28.
Ratification Committee for the Carcross/Tagish First Nation Land Claim Agreements. (2005). Financial Matters[Brochure]. Author.
Ratification Committee for the Carcross/Tagish First Nation Land Claim Agreements. (n.d.). Governance[Brochure]. Author.
Ratification Committee for the Carcross/Tagish First Nation Land Claim Agreements. (2005). Land Matters[Brochure]. Author.
Origin of the Clans. (n.d.). Retrieved November 01, 2017, from https://www.ctfn.ca/origin-clans
Ratification Committee for the Carcross/Tagish First Nation Land Claim Agreements. (2005). Self-Government[Brochure]. Author.
The Constitution of the Carcross/Tagish First Nation, 1 § Mission Statement 1997 (Carcross/Tagish First Nation General Assembly 1997).
Ratification Committee for the Carcross/Tagish First Nation Land Claim Agreements. (2005). Voting Information[Brochure]. Author.
Ratification Committee for the Carcross/Tagish First Nation Land Claim Agreements. (2005). What Will Change With Land Claims?[Brochure]. Author.
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