In the Umbrella Final Agreement, the chapter on fish and wildlife – Chapter 16 – is the longest, more than double most of the others.
For all the varying perspectives, one consistent thread amongst the others is the importance of wildlife to Yukoners, both First Nations and non-First Nations.
“Chapter 16 has been a priority because it's been a priority of First Nations, their traditional use of fish and wildlife,” says Bob Hayes, a retired regional biologist for the territorial government, who worked for decades with wildlife management in the territory. “It's the first thing they think about.”
Inside the cultural centre for the Champagne-Aishihik First Nation, panels describe the history and values of the culture. Interactive displays allow children to play with and learn the importance of wildlife in the traditional territory.
"We are a hunting and fishing people, with close ties to the land," says the panel on traditional knowledge and learning in the Daku Cultural Centre. "In the traditional Dän way, being 'smart' means knowing the animals and the territory."
Prioritizing wildlife, while a uniting influence, is not enough to level all differences in perspective, which vary from community to community and from First Nation to First Nation.
“Wildlife management is riddled with conflict and different points of view,” says Matt Clarke, acting director of fish and wildlife for the territorial government. “That’s why we’ve taken the collaborative approach.”
Even if that’s not always as easy or simple as it may sound.
John Trotter sits in the office of the renewable resource council in Haines Junction, his camouflage fleece sweater grazing the table where well worn copies of the Umbrella Final Agreement and the final agreement for the Champagne-Aishihik First Nation are prominently stacked.
“We rely on this,” he says, laying his hand on the Umbrella Final Agreement. “This is the bible of the council.”
It’s almost literally true. From within the 41 pages of the fish and wildlife chapter was borne public advisory councils, which includes the renewable resource councils and the fish and wildlife management board.
The renewable resource councils tackle the local side of fish and wildlife management, consulting with their community members to create recommendations specific to their traditional territory.
“We can become the voice for the individual,” says Trotter. That voice then gets passed off in the form of a cohesive recommendation from the resource council.
Recommendations can be anything from suggesting an extension of hunting season, to requesting a change in the plants used on the sides of highways to decrease vehicle-animal collisions. Those recommendations can be passed to the territorial government, the First Nations government or the federal government – though that capacity is not often exercised.
For species that span across the territory, like Grizzly bears, bison and caribou, the fish and wildlife management board steps in. The resource councils impacted by the species at hand will provide their recommendations to the board, which then combines them into a cohesive set and passes them up the line.
“It’s like a pinball in a drier," says Trotter, "because it’s going all over the place.”