Pace of change in Carcross stirs reservations
Edna Helm, a Carcross/Tagish First Nation (C/TFN ) elder, is worried that change is coming too fast to her little community.
Photo by AinslIe Cruickshank
QUESTIONING DEVELOPMENT – Carcross/Tagish elder Edna Helm is concerned about the changes happening in Carcross. While her main concern is the resort proposed for Millhaven Bay, sheʼs also questioned projects like this structure just across the parking lot from Montana Services. Whatʼs the point, she wonders? Justin Ferbey, the CEO of the First Nationsʼ development corporation, explained the structure began as construction skills-building project, and thereʼs potential for it to be turned into affordable housing. TOURIST TRAP – Edna Helm is seen Wednesday in front of Skookum Jimʼs House in the Carcross Commons, which she criticized for its historical inaccuracy. Helm is concerned about the impact of the proposed Millhaven Resort on the environment.
CARCROSS – Edna Helm, a Carcross/Tagish First Nation (C/TFN ) elder, is worried that change is coming too fast to her little community.
But Justin Ferbey, the CEO of the Carcross Tagish Management Corp., says change is necessary to reduce poverty and provide jobs for the community’s youth.
Raised in Carcross, Helm said she’s noticed the pace of development has quickened in recent years.
“All of a sudden, everything is slammed on us so bad we don’t know whether we’re coming or going anymore,” she said in an interview Wednesday.
While there’s been local discussion about a possible resort at Millhaven Bay for the past four or five years, Helm is frustrated that the community found out about the proposal through the media.
In January, the Yukon government and C/TFN announced they had received a proposal for $44.7 million resort at Millhaven Bay. The concept can be viewed online at http://inecdevcorp.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/iedc_stoney_mountain_yukon_final_revised_email_20140121.pdf.
Helm was among 15 community members who visited the the Clayoquot Wilderness Resort on Vancouver Island back when a similar resort was first being discussed for Millhaven Bay.
At first, she thought the resort would be “all right.”
“But since then, I have grown to appreciate what I’ve got and stuff that’s around here and I’ve learned since then about our caribou loss, our moose loss, our fish are declining, all these things have been happening and I’ve grown to find out,” she said.
“All this stuff is going to have an impact on the environment here; that’s what I’m worried about,” she explained.
“I haven’t shot a caribou in gosh, 20 years or so, because we’re trying to bring them back, and then they’re going to put a resort up there with all that stuff in our caribou country?”
Her main concern is the high-brow resort planned for Millhaven Bay on Bennett Lake, but she’s not thrilled with the new Carcross Commons either.
“I don’t know, it’s just a tourist trap,” she said.
“Like Skookum Jim’s House, does that look like his house if you look in old books? That’s not his house, and they call that a tourist attraction?
That’s an eyesore to me,” she commented.
“Skookum Jim’s House was over on the reserve where it should have stayed, where he built it and put it. Of course it’s a replica, but still, it’s not even near what Skookum Jim’s House looked like.”
Tourists get enough of that in Skagway, she suggested; they come to Carcross to see the beauty of the wilderness.
Justin Ferbey, the CEO of the First Nations development corporation, has a different perspective on the pace of change in the community about 70 km south of Whitehorse.
“It couldn’t actually be much slower,” he said Thursday, noting there’s been talk of some sort of resort at Millhaven Bay for more than 10 years.
He agrees there are costs and benefits to the projects, but the reality, he said, “is we have to follow some market opportunities in Carcross that require development.”
The impacts of ecotourism will be arguably less than if the First Nation had opted to pursue more traditional economic opportunities like mining or hydraulic fracturing, Ferbey said.
And something has to be done.
“You go to Carcross today and every single summer and every single winter, people are saying ‘What employment opportunities are there for young people?’ and the answer, outside of working as a bureaucrat in government, is zero,” he noted.
“The one thing in Carcross that absolutely has to change is the economic level of the young, growing population who have no diversity of jobs and high unemployment, more so than the rest of Canada and definitely higher than the average in the Yukon.”
It would be wonderful, he said, to find a poverty reduction strategy that doesn’t impact the land, but he doesn’t foresee that happening unless Google decides to go to Carcross.
As for Helm’s concerns about consultation and input from the community, Ferbey noted no decisions have been made about the proposed resort and community consultation sessions are planned.
An open-house information session about the resort is planned for between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Saturday at Skookum Jim’s House in the Carcross Commons.
That will be followed by an evening consultation session from 5:30 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, also at Skookum Jim’s House.
A consultation session will also be held in Whitehorse in boardroom B at the High Country Inn from 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday.
Helm also raised questions about other economic initiatives which haven’t materialized, including an eco-cabin motel planned for an empty lot near Montana Services.
The motel, Ferbey said, was put on hold for business reasons.
“What became clear in our planning was that until we establish a downtown core, it would be foolhardy to do a little motel,” he told the Star.
“The reason being is in absence of anything for people to do at night ... you probably will not get the people wanting to stay overnight in Carcross as opposed to going back to Whitehorse,” he said.
As for the empty structure just off the Montana Services parking lot, which Helm also questions, Ferbey explained that began as a construction skills-building project for locals.
The First Nation is currently looking to see if it can be turned into affordable housing units.