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Vuntut Gwitchin change residency rules for council candidates, but not councillors

The Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation has changed a controversial section of its constitution around residency requirements for council candidates, but a citizen who is challenging the constitution in court says that change does not go far enough.

The Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation made nearly 200 amendments to its constitution at its general assembly, including changing the residency requirements for council candidates. (Jane Sponagle/CBC)

The Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation (VGFN) has changed a controversial section of its constitution around residency requirements for council candidates, but a citizen who is challenging the constitution in court says that change does not go far enough.

The First Nation’s constitution had stated only citizens who lived on settlement land were eligible to run in elections. That means only citizens who live in Old Crow, Yukon, could run as it’s the only community on VGFN settlement land. 

Cindy Dickson tried to run for a councillor position in last fall’s election, but her nomination was rejected because she lives in Whitehorse. 

Dickson filed a petition in the Yukon Supreme Court in January asking for a declaration that the clause “and are resident on settlement land” is in violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation constitution.

Cindy Dickson is challenging the residency requirements for Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation councillors in court. She tried to run for a position in 2018, but her nomination was rejected because she lives in Whitehorse. (Submitted by Cindy Dickson)

The Vuntut Gwitchin made close to 200 amendments to its constitution at the general assembly earlier this month. 

One of those amendments included changing the residency rules to say Vuntut Gwitchin citizens living anywhere in Canada can run in the election, but if elected, they must move back to Old Crow within 14 days after the election.

“I think it’s a good, positive step forward that they opened up the nomination process but they still haven’t addressed the question of residing on settlement land and that is the one part of the constitution that I do not agree with,” said Dickson. 

She says there is room to have one councillor position based outside of Old Crow, but the chief should reside in the community. 

‘It’s what the community wants’

Dickson says there are close to 200 VGFN citizens who live in Whitehorse and 800 across Canada. 

Chief Dana Tizya-Tramm says he wants to be careful not to bring himself into the conversation about residency requirements, letting the court affidavits speak for themselves, but he says “it’s what the community wants.”

Chief Dana Tizya-Tramm wants to be careful not to bring himself into the conversation about residency requirements, letting the court affidavits speak for themselves. (Jane Sponagle/CBC)

“We reviewed our constitution in 2006 and this was a large conversation at that general assembly and this is what we saw realized in the constitution. Here we are in 2019, and you still see it in the constitution. So this is the will of the people and we have to respect that,” Tizya-Tramm said.

According to a legal briefing prepared for the VGFN general assembly, “the outcome of the legal challenge, either way, will establish a new legal precedent in Canada.”

“[It] will inform if and how Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms may affect the exercise of self-government rights by self-governing Indigenous governments across Canada, including VGFN and other self-governing Yukon First Nations,” it reads. 

The Yukon Supreme Court will hear Dickson’s petition over three days starting on Oct. 22.

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