Council of Yukon First Nations’ (CYFN) Grand Chief Peter Johnston still can’t wrap his head around it.
In a bizarre stroke of luck, an original print of the ‘Together Today for our Children Tomorrow’ document has been donated to CYFN – almost 48 years to the day it was presented to the federal government.
“In my 48 years, I’ve never seen anything like that,” Johnston told APTN News.
‘Together Today’ is a defining policy paper that was presented to former prime minister Pierre Trudeau on Feb. 14, 1973, by a group of Yukon First Nations leaders.
It highlights the frustration Indigenous people had in the ’60s and ’70s, while also exploring the future Yukon First Nations leaders wanted for their people.
The delegation, led by Elijah Smith, who was first chairman of the Council for Yukon Indians and the first president of the Yukon Native Brotherhood, were able to convince the federal government to begin a negotiation process for a modern-day treaty, the first in Canada. The ‘Together Today’ document later laid the foundation for the negotiation of the Yukon Final and Self-Government Agreements, releasing most of the Yukon First Nations from the Indian Act.
Yet, somehow, an original print of the historic document wound up in a sales bin in a Whitehorse framing shop, where it was found two years ago by antique shop owner Andrew Cook.
Cook says he immediately recognized what the print was.
“I’ve been collecting antiques my whole life, and seldom do you find something that has such significance,” he says.
“This is like the Magna Carta in the sense that this is the document, this is the foundational piece.”
On Feb. 17, Cook donated the print to CYFN, the organization born out of the document’s legacy.
“There’s no greater pleasure than to give something that has such power and significance to a community, and to a community that’s embraced me,” he says.
“For us to get a piece of history to come back to the CYFN I think is not only monumental, but now we can share it and promote it for the next generation,” Johnston adds.
The print also holds special significance for Johnston, whose father, Sam Johnston, was one of the First Nations delegates in Ottawa.
“My dad was one of the signatories for the ‘Together Today for Our Children Tomorrow.’ He was the chief of the Teslin Indian Band back in 1970 to 1984.”
“(It was) very significant to me growing up within the land negotiation reality, and just having the ability now being in this position and to carry on the momentum,” he says.
Despite the progress in self-government and autonomy Yukon First Nations have made in the last several decades, Johnston notes First Nations communities in the territory continue to grapple with issues caused by the legacy of colonialism.
“We’re still dealing with, unfortunately, high rates of people still caught in the foster care program, incarceration and there’s a lot of drug and alcohol addictions still,” he says
“(However), we are progressively moving ahead. We’ve had a generation of children born now into a self-government reality, so the Indian Act doesn’t guide us anymore.”
Johnston says CYFN is actively working to address these issues, and just recently signed a partnership with criminal justice support organization John Howard Society Pacific (JHSP). CYFN’s website states the partnership “will guide the sharing of expertise and solutions related to programs that support people with complex needs, specifically Yukon First Nations.”
As for the print’s origins, Cook says that will most likely remain a mystery. He speculates it may have been forgotten by someone who was looking to have it framed.
“I think at one point, before it was framed, it would have been held up in front of a press-junket so people could see it much bigger than it was,” he says.
“Now there is a mystery, where did it come from, where did they use it,” Johnston says.
He says the print will now be displayed in CYFN’s conference room where it’s there to stay.
“It’s part of CYFN and it’s good for it to be home.”