Photos: Archbould Photography
50 Year Celebration
The Council of Yukon First Nations hosted a week-long celebration commemorating 50 years since the historic document, Together Today for Our Children Tomorrow was presented by Elijah Smith and a delegation of Yukon Chiefs to the prime minister in 1973. People who attended the event were transported back to when leaders first laid the foundation for the self-government agreements. CYFN shared historic photographs and footage with the public, reigniting feelings of pride and appreciation for the work Elders and political leaders accomplished after many years of negotiations. Event organizers also shared a daily interview segment where CYFN Grand Chief Peter Johnston connected with his guests in a meaningful way, not only asking them to delve into their memories for stories about their long-standing careers but also inviting them to look to the future and share the value in the agreements for the next generations. The interviews clearly depicted what it was like for them to start their journey within self-government. Although they all followed different paths, they all shared one guiding force - the responsibility to help their communities move forward in a good way.
One story shared by many Indigenous leaders at the 50th Anniversary Celebration of Together Today for Our Children Tomorrow was the sense of responsibility passed down to them by their families. Deputy Premier Jeanie McLean provided the opening speech for the celebration. During her speech, she recounted her uncle telling her, "Jeanie if you want to make a difference, you need to step into the arena." She listened and was elected to the Yukon Legislative Assembly in 2016.
CYFN Archive Photo: Yukon Elders
The choice to step forward and enter the political arena was a responsibility placed on many Indigenous leaders by matriarchs. Former CYFN Grand Chief Shirley Adamson shared how matriarchs got together and chose the people for the roles within self-government to represent them. They carried out the work under the direction of the matriarchs. Adamson shares, "We followed in the footsteps of our predecessors. The Elders were giving us guidance on everything. They prepared us so well to look to the future, empowering the Children of Tomorrow." Each generation was paving the way forward for the subsequent generation.
The responsibility to be involved in the self-government process was also placed on leaders by Elijah Smith himself. Many people shared stories of him visiting them and asking for their help. Working together was the only way forward. They encourage the younger generations to learn and see themselves in Together Today for Our Children Tomorrow. Elder Gerald Issac remembers living outside the Yukon when this started. He said, "I took the advice of the Elders and went home to help my people." They say that recruiting people from their communities is also necessary today.
The strength of the leaders at this event is irrefutable. They articulated their stories with passion and an unwavering sense of identity as Indigenous people. Based on the stories they shared, their strength can be attributed to their cultures. The importance of knowing their language and having a strong connection to the land was shared by everyone. Lhu’ààn Mân Ku Dań Elder, Mary Jane Johnson remembers her grandparents teaching her the names of different mountains and places within their traditional territory in the Southern Tutchone language. She says this is all they knew, and she challenges the young people today to remake their maps, including the language and stories connected to each area. She also compares the writing of the Umbrella Final Agreement to a manifesto for their generation - they put their hearts and the best of their words into the document for everything they wanted to see accomplished in their lifetime. She challenges the younger generations to rewrite their own manifesto for everything they are going to support and stand up for in their lifetime.
The Children of Tomorrow
During a special segment of the celebrations, a group of young emerging leaders presented their journey within the Yukon First Nations Climate Action Fellowship. The Fellows were given the responsibility to work alongside Yukon First Nations to co-create a Yukon First Nations Climate Vision and Action Plan. The Vision and Action Plan can guide Yukon First Nations and other communities, governments, and industry in responding to the challenges of climate change with spirit and actions that reflect a Yukon First Nations worldview. The Fellows began the presentation by introducing themselves in their Indigenous languages. This set the tone for what they were about to share. They revealed their healing journeys as part of the fellowship and their gratitude for having one another throughout the process. Culture, identity, and their connection to the land were discussed. During the fellowship, they could participate in land-based learning opportunities, strengthening their connection. They presented the Reconnection Vision as a pathway for change. They state “it is the disconnection from land, body, mind and spirit that drives the climate crisis.” To read more about the Climate Action Fellowship, visit www.yfnclimate.ca.
The interviews and presentations shared this week are a source of inspiration for many. People unfamiliar with the history of self-government within the Yukon could learn and appreciate the sacrifice many of these leaders had to make, including a lot of time away from their families. They also shared today’s challenging realities – the mental health and addiction crisis facing many of their communities. Almost every speaker addressed this issue and agreed that something needs to be done, and it needs to be done now.
Elder Shirley Adamson made a profound statement during her interview. “Always prepare those that come behind us, do everything you can do to hold them up, to educate them and don’t let go of the language and the culture because that’s who we are, and when you go into meetings there has to be a place for our younger people because it’s not just putting them on a youth council or asking them to give you advice on sports and things like that, these are the people who are going to live in the world after we’re gone, they need to be able to determine that world they’re moving into and we have to support them, we have to move into our roles as Elders that are linking the past to the future. We have to be really responsible for that. We have to continue to look after each other and to always make sure not one of us is left behind.”