Sam Johnston was the first aboriginal Speaker in Canada. He served as Speaker of the Yukon Legislative Assembly from 1985 to 1992.
Yukon Government photo
The Yukon Council and Commissioner in the new Council Chambers in the federal building in Whitehorse, 1967. L-R: Bob MacKinnon, Bert Boyd, Ken Thompson, Commissioner James Smith, Speaker George Shaw on the Speaker’s dais, John Watt, Fred Southam, Don Taylor.
Yukon Archives, Whitehorse Star Ltd. fonds, 82/563 f.145 #26
The swearing in for the 23rd Wholly Elective Yukon Council in 1974. L -R: Eleanor Millard, Willard Phelps, Gordon McIntyre, Stuart McCall, Fred Berger, Dan Lang, legal advisor Padraig O’Donoghue, Commissioner James Smith (centre), unidentified photographer, Clerk of the Council Linda Adams, Hilda Watson, Bob Fleming, Florence Whyard, Ken McKinnon, Speaker Don Taylor, Dr. Jack Hibberd.
Yukon Archives, Yukon. Photography Unit Records, 90/51 #348
Judge Craig, Judge Dugas and Judge Macaulay of the Supreme Court of Yukon Territory, 1912.
Alaska State Library, Wickersham State Historic Sites Photograph Collection, ASL-P277-001-0167
Elijah Smith (front row, right) and Yukon Chiefs and advisors, standing on the steps of the Parliament Building in Ottawa, after presenting Together Today for Our Children Tomorrow to Prime Minister Trudeau, February 1973.
Personal collection of Judy Gingell

Governance in Yukon Today

The Yukon Legislative Assembly is the legislative arm of the Yukon Government, elected by Yukon people from all backgrounds and communities. Despite its small size, the Legislative Assembly operates according to British parliamentary traditions. Three political parties – the Yukon Party, Yukon Liberal Party and Yukon New Democratic Party – currently have members elected to the Assembly. The members elect a Speaker to preside over their proceedings, and follow the same rules of order as other legislatures operating under the Westminster model.

Since 1979 the party with the largest number of members after an election has undertaken the executive functions of government, with the leader assuming the title of Government Leader (now, Premier) and appointing MLAs as Members of the Executive Council or Cabinet Ministers. Cabinet initiates the majority of bills presented to the Legislative Assembly, including financial appropriations, although other members may also introduce bills. Once bills are passed by a majority of members they are presented to the Commissioner for assent and then are called Acts, which form the laws of the Yukon.

The Premier and Ministers oversee the administration of the Yukon Government through various departments, agencies, and government corporations, with a range of territorial powers and responsibilities similar to a provincial government for education, health, wildlife, justice, plus other local matters, including control of Crown lands in Yukon.

The Yukon Judiciary is composed of judges appointed by the Yukon Minister of Justice to the Yukon Supreme Court and other courts responsible for trying cases and issuing judgments involving criminal and civil matters related to Yukon legislation.

The Government of Canada retains control of federal Crown Lands in the territory and responsibility for federal departments and agencies administering matters of national concern such as international relations, immigration and defence.

In February 1973 Elijah Smith and a delegation of Yukon Chiefs presented a statement of claims entitled Together Today for Our Children Tomorrow to Prime Minister Trudeau in Ottawa. Negotiations between federal, territorial and aboriginal leaders concluded in an Umbrella Final Agreement in 1993. This formed the basis for Final Agreements and Self-Government Agreements that by 2006 had been signed by eleven of fourteen First Nations. These agreements provide for the allocation and management of lands and resources, financial compensation and fiscal arrangements, as well as guaranteeing First Nations people rights and responsibilities on their lands and in the overall development of the Yukon.

Today the Yukon people choose those who will represent them at the federal, territorial and municipal levels, and aboriginal people govern themselves within their First Nation jurisdictions. All levels of government cooperate to develop laws, policies and programs to care for the people, lands and resources that form this vast northern territory. While the federal government retains some special roles, the elected Yukon Legislative Assembly and the governments formed from its members have most of the same powers and responsibilities as their provincial counterparts.

Members of Yukon Legislative Assemblies 1909 - 2009

A PDF is available that contains all of the members and districts organized by election year. This information is excerpted from Linda Johnson's With the People Who Live Here: The History of the Yukon Legislature, 1909 – 1961. Whitehorse: Legislative Assembly of Yukon, 2009, p. 350 – 362.