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Yukon First Nation calls on William and Kate to support land rights

Prince William and his wife Kate, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, watch native youth dancers perform during a welcoming ceremony in Carcross, Yukon, Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2016.


As the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge admired the snow-capped mountains ringing this small Yukon town, the chief of the Carcross Tagish First Nation appealed for the royal couple's help to empower aboriginal communities and keep the area pristine.

Prince William and his wife, Catherine, visited the southern Yukon community of Carcross on Wednesday during the second day of their whirlwind tour of the northern territory. While most of the town's population of 300 gathered to welcome the royal couple with dancing and song in front of a towering totem pole, Chief Andy Carvill asked for their support to increase respect for the small First Nation.

The visit came after two days of appeals in British Columbia where frustrated First Nations leaders called on the royal couple to use their high-profile visit to encourage more co-operation from the federal and provincial governments toward First Nations.

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The Yukon considers itself at the forefront of aboriginal land claims in Canada, with 11 of the territory's First Nations having signed self-government agreements – nearly half of all such existing agreements in the country.

In theory, the settlements give the First Nations nearly the same powers as the Yukon. The Carcross Tagish First Nation signed a self-government agreement nearly a decade ago but, according to Mr. Carvill, it isn't being taken seriously enough.

"We've seen the message that other leaders in B.C. have passed on and we've been struggling for a number of years. We're struggling to get that recognition, to get other governments to truly work with us on a government-to-government basis," he said after addressing the royals.

He said protecting the area's land and water was his most pressing concern. Carcross is surrounded by clear, glacier-fed lakes and has staked much of its future on a network of mountain biking trails built in the hills surrounding the community.

"We have other governments who make decisions to open up areas for mining and First Nations governments aren't included in the whole process, all we're asking for is to work together," he said.

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, the president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, has boycotted royal events as William and Catherine return to British Columbia on Wednesday evening. The grand chief's members directed him not to attend reconciliation events with the royals.

Jordan Peterson struggled with whether he should attend the royal visit. The 29-year-old is the newly elected vice-president of the Gwich'in Tribal Council in the Northwest Territories. He didn't want to see the royals but decided to make the 1,300-kilometre trek at the last moment to ensure that they face Canada's difficult history of First Nations relations.

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"They're a new generation, it could be different, but there is a lot of history that is unspoken and it needs to be talked about," he said.

The weather was chilly during the couple's 20-hour visit to the territory, as the royal couple met with locals in Whitehorse and Carcross.

Earlier in the day, they tweeted out a royal message using a vintage telegraph machine at the MacBride Museum in Whitehorse. Doug Bell, a 90-year-old former telegraph operator, tapped out the message for the Duke and Duchess.

"It was still in me, just like tapping out an alphabet," said Mr. Bell, who admitted to being much slower than he was during his days as a telegraph operator.

The royals also gathered with a group of children at the territory's pre-eminent history museum for a language lesson. The children sang a welcome song and pronounced the names of wolves, bears and rabbits in First Nations languages.

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About the Author
Ontario legislative reporter

Based in Toronto, Justin Giovannetti is The Globe and Mail’s Ontario legislative reporter. He previously worked out of the newspaper’s Edmonton, Toronto and B.C. bureaus. He is a graduate of Montreal’s Concordia University and has also worked for CTV in Quebec. More


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