Yukon North Of Ordinary

News archive for January 7, 2014

Jurisdiction over traditional territory demanded

The White River First Nation (WRFN) has put the Yukon government on notice: provide White River with the same jurisdiction over its traditional territory that the government has provided the Ross River Dena Council or go to court.

By Chuck Tobin on January 7, 2014 at 4:15 pm

photo

Photo by Whitehorse Star

White River Chief Charles Eikland Jr.

The White River First Nation (WRFN) has put the Yukon government on notice: provide White River with the same jurisdiction over its traditional territory that the government has provided the Ross River Dena Council or go to court.

Krista Robertson, the First Nation’s lawyer, explained in an interview this morning that White River has many times impressed upon the government that it’s in the same legal position as Ross River.

The decision in favour of Ross River by the Yukon Court of Appeal on Dec. 27, 2012 applies to White River, because it too has unsurrendered aboriginal rights and title, Robertson explained.

The court ruled Ross River must be consulted before any mineral staking is allowed inside its traditional territory, and it must be consulted before any work occurs on those claims.

Robertson said as recently as early December, the First Nation reminded the government that what it intended to do to satisfy the Court of Appeal decision with regard to Ross River must also be applied to White River.

There’s no question the message was clearly communicated to the Yukon government, she said.

Now, added Robertson, there’s a situation where the First Nation is spending money on lawyers, and the public purse will have to spend money on a legal challenge the government has absolutely no chance of winning.

It’s unfortunate the government has not chosen reconciliation but rather seems to be steering toward another legal standoff which ultimately breeds mistrust, she said.

“If a (mineral) claim is staked in their traditional territory without consultation, in light of the Court of Appeal decision, they may well take legal action,” she said.

Robertson said if any low-level, class one exploration work is undertaken on existing mineral claims inside White River’s traditional territory, the First Nation may take legal action.

The First Nation, she said, monitors its traditional territory very closely. Any activity without consulting the First Nations could result in a legal action in very short order, she added.

Premier Darrell Pasloski was unavailable for comment this morning.

Cabinet spokeswoman Elaine Schiman said at mid-morning the cabinet offices had not yet seen the press release issued by the WRFN.

White River, of Beaver Creek, the Ross River Dena Council (RRDC)  and the Liard First Nation of Watson Lake are the only three of the 14 Yukon First Nations without aboriginal land claim settlements.

“The RRDC case decision that found that the ‘free entry’ mining system was a breach of aboriginal rights clearly applies to WRFN territory, and is a call to action of the Pasloski government,” White River Chief Charles Eikland Jr. said in this morning’s press release.

“As we stated last year, all staking must be suspended in our territory pending resolution of these matters. WRFN has asked for years for a true process to resolve issues with government to create certainty for all.

“To date, there has been no serious commitment to this from YG, and the economy will continue to falter as a result, with terrible uncertainty for investment,” the chief said.

The RRDC filed legal action against the Yukon government in 2011. It claimed the government had a legal duty to consult with the First Nation before permitting mineral staking or exploration activity inside its traditional territory.

Following a split decision in the Yukon Supreme Court, both parties filed an appeal.

The Yukon Court of Appeal ruled a year ago that the government had a duty to consult before allowing any mineral staking.

It also ruled the government had a duty to consult before allowing any low-level exploration activity, such as cutting lines or digging trenches.

It gave the government one year to bring its legislation into compliance.

At the time of the decision, lawyers from both sides suggested the ruling in all likelihood could be applied to the traditional territories of the two other Yukon First Nations without settlements: the WRFN and the Liard First Nation of Watson Lake.

The government passed amendments to the Yukon Quartz and Placer mining acts on Dec. 19.

The amendments allow the government to establish different mining and exploration regulations for different areas of the Yukon.

Two days before Christmas, prior to the Dec. 27 deadline, the government announced a new set of rules for the Ross River area.

It declared a four-month moratorium on mineral staking across the area, to allow more time to negotiate a satisfactory arrangement with the RRDC.

It also declared all class one exploration activity on existing claims in the Ross River area must now undergo a period of consultation with the First Nation before any work commences.

At the time of the decision a year ago, the exploration and mining industry suggested the application of the Court of Appeal decision could have a crippling impact on the industry in the Yukon.

There was fear that forcing individuals and companies to consult before staking claims would remove the confidentiality companies rely on when staking claims.

Forcing a consultation process for the lowest level of exploration activity would stymie investment dollars, it was feared.

Currently, except for the Ross River area now, anyone can stake a mineral claim in the Yukon without any consultation, in what is commonly referred to as the free entry system.

Claim owners are also entitled to undertake a certain level of work – cut lines, clear heli-pads, make temporary camps for up to 10, dig holes and trenches, use explosives – without obtaining any permits, and without telling anyone.

The Court of Appeal ruled that was a breach of Ross River’s aboriginal rights and title.

The White River lawyer said White River wants and is entitled to the same control over its lands that has been afforded the RRDC through the announcements on Dec. 23.

The circumstances, Robertson emphasized, are exactly the same.

CommentsAdd a comment

Jack

Jan 7, 2014 at 9:03 pm

Fair enough, YG must comply with the courts.  But White River’s traditional territory seems to magically grow larger each year, now they assert that Pelly and the Casino mine are in their territory.  They have no credibility.  They make too many legal threats (no pipeline, no mining, Idle No More, etc) to be taken serious.  Why do not they focus on making a healthy community instead of wasting money on lawyers?

Teresa

Jan 9, 2014 at 4:30 pm

I would like to respond to Jack’s comment.
I agree that the Yukon Government MUST comply with the courts. However, I disagree with everything else you have said.

Let’s start with your use of the word “magically.” Did you know White River First Nation’s Traditional Territory was asserted in 1990 when the Nation came into existence? However, our People have been on this land since time immemorial, therefore, our Traditional Territory has ALWAYS been asserted as ours. 

You are clearly taking the Westernized Eurocentric stance when you are talking about what you believe is “credible.” Please research more before you make a statement about credibility.
Legal action is always the last resort! 

I would like to suggest you get your facts straight.

Thank you.

Kelli Backstrom

Jan 9, 2014 at 10:31 pm

I find a lot wrong with the comment that Jack made - “Why do not they focus on making a healthy community instead of wasting money on lawyers? This article is regarding traditional territory and not social issues per say.

I am a member of White River First Nation and making a blanket statement about an unhealthy community without anything to back that up is an issue for me. I know many healthy WRFN members.  Additionally,  in regards to how land claims and social issues are related, if WRFN signed land claims we would be in a better position to provide services to members.  As it is now, transfer payments and contribution agreements from Ottawa, and how the Indian Act is set up does not make it easy to do so.  Lawyers who are paid for land claim matters and funding for social programs does not come out of the same “budget line” anyway, Jack.

In 1990, Chief Peters presented a tabled map with our traditional territory which included Casino, Minto and Kaminak but it was ignored by government.  Historically that map was correct and is one major reason why WRFN did not sign land claims.

WRFN prefers not to spend money on litigation, but we must defend our Aboriginal Rights and we will continue to do that.

Jack

Jan 9, 2014 at 11:37 pm

@Teresa. I know the facts.  White River agreed to a traditional territory that would be within the original traditional territory of the Kluane Tribal Council (which was the amalgamated body of the White River and Kluane First Nation) in 1990.  In fact, a provision in the umbrella final agreement states that - but over the past ten years or so, the lawyers, consultants and negotiators for White River have been pushing the boundaries of its traditional territory in order to shake down mining projects, pipelines, etc. with threats of legal action.  Now they argue that they never agreed to the original boundaries.  I know the facts so, don’t get me started.  I wish White River would just commence a title action - but they know that they’re sitting on a house of cards and they’re benefiting from this uncertainty.

marilyn sanford

Jan 10, 2014 at 11:46 am

as I am a member of w.r.f.n I totally agree with Teresa. please research
before open your mouth or comment

Jack

Jan 10, 2014 at 3:01 pm

@kelli.  I am pleased that you acknowledged that White River would be in a “better position” if it signed its land claim agreement. I guess that is my point. You can continue to let your Vancouver lawyers and your Calgary negotiator lead you into my more litigation that will alienate more mining companies and offend more First Nations - or you can use those monies that you are paying your lawyers and negotiator to build a healthier and stronger community. How do you think that White River is paying its lawyers and negotiator - with your program and service funding provided by Canada. This does not necessarily mean signing the UFA, but there are many other constructive options for your community that will benefit your members.

Kelli Backstrom

Jan 11, 2014 at 1:45 am

Yes, I agree Jack, WRFN would be better off if the land claims were signed but as it is, it would not be in our best interest or for the future generations who will own that land.

In short, WRFN not only wants their land, they want control on who can come on it and the kinds of activities permitted on it.

Thank you,
Kelli

Teresa

Jan 11, 2014 at 1:14 pm

@Jack Are you a member of the White River First Nation?

Teresa

Jan 13, 2014 at 3:53 am

This debate should be left for a GA, however, that being said, I would like to make a final statement. I’ll probably get lots of dislikes and be labeled as a “radical” and a “disruption to the status quo” but I must explain my stance.

White River First Nation will not sell-out to the colonial state (at least, not if I can help it). The state represents all that is non-Indigenous: colonialism, industrialism, and capitalism. Indigenous Peoples spiritualities, cultures, and histories are the only thing stopping the state from taking every inch of our land. Our spirituality (unless you have adopted a Western religion) is rooted deep into this land along side the roots of the mountains mining companies are interested in. We have a shared history with those mountains and it is our responsibility as stewards of the land to see that those mountains live in peace until the end of time. That is my belief and that is my stance against all capitalist interest.

If you do not understand my stance either you are non-Indigenous or you have lost your indigeniety somewhere along the colonial pathway. I hope you find it and reclaim it.

Tsen’ii.

now outside

Jan 14, 2014 at 10:19 am

“White River First Nation will not sell-out to the colonial state (at least, not if I can help it). The state represents all that is non-Indigenous: colonialism, industrialism, and capitalism. “

With comments like that you wonder why many are angry and frustrated?
You may wish to consider that “industrialism, and capitalism” on the part of the colonists provides Aboriginals with some $10 billion a year.
Like it or not that is a fact. Like it or not the Indian Act is no longer relevant in this century.
Join us because truly, you can’t go back and you can’t have your own way.

yukoner

Jan 14, 2014 at 3:08 pm

I would like to just say Teresa you are quite some piece of work.

Teresa

Jan 14, 2014 at 4:50 pm

@now outside Yes, many Indigenous Peoples are angry and frustrated. You may want to double check your figures. That number has been tossed about but that is certainly not the truth. “Join us”? You make it sound like a cult, so I rather not.

@yukoner Thank you.

yukoner

Jan 15, 2014 at 2:18 pm

@Teresa it was not meant as a comment I don’t agree with anything you are saying but thanks for the thank you.

Jack

Jan 15, 2014 at 4:57 pm

@Teresa.  I am a Yukon First Nation citizen and have worked for several decades in the Yukon to try to build a better future for our communities. This work is rewarding and satisfying but it is very frustrating to see the lost opportunities and bandits ripping us off.  Teresa has passion - but it is misplaced.  Set aside the rhetoric and focus that passion to ensure that our children have a bright future.  Over the past 100 years, our world has changed and we need to adapt (just like our ancestors did time and time again).  I support environmental stewardship and responsible economic development.  We can do it.  Just do not call me a sell-out or state that I lost something - that is insulting and disrespectful.

Fluke

Jan 16, 2014 at 9:07 am

@ Teresa - If the WRFN are so concerned about environmental degradation in their territory then why do they allow the Kluane Lake fishing derby to take place in which 5-10 40 year old plus lake trout along with over a hundred lake trout of varying ages and sizes are killed every July so the community can make a couple bucks. Since when does killing fish for profit sound like an appropriate use of traditional resources. I am with you on FN having more control over your land FYI as I believe your heart is in a better place than any government trying to manage it, but think the FN in that area should change the Kluane fishing derby to a catch and release derby like many other derbies are in other parts of Canada.

Teresa

Jan 17, 2014 at 8:50 am

@Jack Thank you for recognizing my passion, however, I disagree with your belief of it being misplaced. I applaud you for focusing your passion towards communities. We all have different passions and mine is different from yours but we are fighting the same fight. I think it is obvious that Indigenous Peoples can adapt! We wouldn’t be here if we didn’t. I was not calling you a sell-out, although it may have been mistaken as such. I was arguing with you regarding what you believe is “credible.” My other statement was directed towards everyone and they can take it anyway they want.

@Fluke Thank you, however, the derby is a whole other issue! Although it is a very good suggestion.

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