Council for the Teslin Tlingit, located about 150 kilometres southeast of Whitehorse, has signed a historic agreement to run its own justice system, allowing the self-governing First Nation to enact its own laws and set up its own court.
The Teslin Tlingit becomes the first among Yukon's self-governing First Nations to sign a justice agreement with the territorial and federal governments. As part of the Umbrella Final Agreement, which was signed by the federal, Yukon and First Nation governments in 1993, the parties have committed to reaching justice agreements with each of the 11 self-governing First Nations.
Teslin Tlingit Chief Peter Johnston signed the Administration of Justice Agreement with federal Indian and Northern Affairs Minister John Duncan and Yukon Premier Dennis Fentie at a ceremony in Teslin. In a release Chief Johnston stated: "The Teslin Tlingit Council now has the legislative, executive and judicial powers over its self-government jurisdictions, enabling us to further enshrine the Tlingit way of life into everything we do…we look forward to working with Canada, Yukon and our citizens to continue advancing our social, economic and constitutional visions."
The agreement allows Teslin Tlingit to enact its own laws in a variety of areas, including wildlife protection, control of the First Nation's settlement land, controlling overcrowding of homes, local zoning and planning, adoption, the solemnization of marriages and wills and inheritances. The Teslin Tlingit's justice system will not only apply to its own citizens — regardless of where they are in Yukon — but also to non-citizens who are visiting or residing on Teslin Tlingit traditional lands, which span about 1,100 square kilometres.
Teslin Tlingit will also establish a "peacemaker court" to prosecute violations of its legislation, impose penalties and resolve disputes based on traditional processes. As well, Teslin Tlingit will set up its own corrections programs and services for those who receive sentences from the peacemaker court. Teslin Tlingit will not however take over criminal law cases or matters under federal jurisdiction, such as national security.
Teslin Tlingit has already drafted legislation governing the peacemaker court and local corrections procedures. This is expected to come into effect in the next six months.