January 4, 2011
The front door of the Carcross-Tagish First Nation’s main office was barricaded by a group of protesters who stood outside the building on Tuesday.The front door of the Carcross-Tagish First Nation’s main office was barricaded by a group of protesters who stood outside the building on Tuesday. (CBC)Protesters who barricaded the doors of a Yukon First Nation’s office on Tuesday say their leaders are not looking after members’ interests, but those leaders say the protesters are standing in the way of much-needed social reforms.
About a dozen members of the Carcross-Tagish First Nation gathered outside the main entrance to the First Nation’s main office building on Tuesday. The doors were chained for part of the morning.
Those who attended the protest said most of the First Nation’s members are outsiders, while unemployment remains high in Carcross, a community of about 435 located 74 kilometres south of Whitehorse.
“You know, there’s 80 per cent unemployment in this community, [and] probably 80 per cent of the people that work here don’t live here,” Harold Gatensby, a First Nation member, said at Tuesday’s protest.
The protesters also said some Carcross-Tagish members have had their social assistance benefits cut off, as the result of changes to the First Nation’s social assistance program.
Trying to introduce changes
But Carcross-Tagish Chief Mark Wedge said those people lost their social assistance because they had refused to work when jobs were offered to them.
As well, Wedge said some members are upset because they had received holiday vouchers from the First Nation, not cash.
“Oftentimes, to ensure that the children will get the food … we provide vouchers as opposed to cash,” Wedge told CBC News. “So some aren’t happy about some of the processes that we’ve done.”
‘Kids just don’t just drop out of school and turn into alcoholics before the age of 15 for no reason. And we want to change that.’—Deputy chief Dan Cresswell
Wedge and other First Nation leaders and staff spent Tuesday at an annual planning meeting, which was held at another First Nation building. The meeting continues on Wednesday.
The officials at the meeting have been discussing reforms to address unemployment and other issues in the community.
Deputy chief Dan Cresswell said the Carcross-Tagish First Nation must break out of a cycle of unemployment, adding that he does not want young people to see social assistance to be a normal way of living.
“I want them to have the best education, to work, to travel the world [and] see it, to live out on our land,” Cresswell said.
“Kids have been in harm’s way for a long time,” he added. “Kids just don’t just drop out of school and turn into alcoholics before the age of 15 for no reason. And we want to change that. Enough’s enough.”
The First Nation’s executive council is expected to talk later this week about what they should do next, if they cannot resolve the situation with the protesters.