Yukon North Of Ordinary

News archive for February 5, 2014

Western Arctic Gwich’in plan legal action

The Gwich’in Tribal Council of the Western Arctic will file a legal action against the Yukon government regarding the Peel land use plan, says the council’s vice-president.

By Chuck Tobin on February 5, 2014 at 3:52 pm

The Gwich’in Tribal Council of the Western Arctic will file a legal action against the Yukon government regarding the Peel land use plan, says the council’s vice-president.

Norman Snowshoe said this morning the Gwich’in are still discussing what shape the lawsuit will take, and he’s not sure when it will be filed in Yukon Supreme Court.

“We have to make sure when we do this we do it correctly and we cover all the bases prior to doing this because it is such a serious issue,” Snowshoe told the Star from his office in Inuvik, N.W.T. “We want to make sure we get the results we need.”

The Gwich’in vice-president said the matter of asking the court for an order freezing the Peel River watershed from any development activity until the court action is finished has come up in discussions.

Right now, said Snowshoe, the ball is in the Yukon government’s court and whether the government will permit new mineral claims and other developments to proceed, as it has stated it will.

The Gwich’in have traditional ties to the Peel watershed. As part of their 1992 aboriginal land claim settlement, they were given surface ownership to a section of the Peel area through a transboundary agreement attached to the settlement.

The pending legal action will complement the lawsuit filed Jan. 27 against the Yukon government by two Yukon First Nations, the Yukon Conservation Society and the local chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society.

“This legal challenge will be tailored to the unique position of the Gwich’in in the Yukon and will be supportive of the action filed by Nacho Nyak Dun and the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in First Nations,” reads a press release Snowshoe issued Tuesday.

“A court decision will provide clarity for the Gwich’in, Yukon and other groups on the meaning of these modern treaties and the future of the Peel watershed.”

Snowshoe said the Gwich’ins’ legal argument will be clear when their lawsuit is filed.

The Yukon government on Jan. 21 unveiled the final land use plan for the Peel watershed. In coming up with its plan, the government dismissed the final recommendation from the Peel Land Use Planning Commission which recommended wilderness protection across 80 per cent of the watershed.

The government’s plan withdraws approximately 19,800 square kilometres or 21 per cent of the area from any further staking of mineral claims, with the intention of providing park-like protection for lands designated as protected areas.

The protected area designation allows companies to work and develop the 1,998 existing mineral claims inside the protected areas with prior notification so consultation with affected First Nations can occur.

The protected area designation also allows roads to be built through the parkland to access those claims.

Another 29,702 square kilometres or 44 per cent of the watershed has been designated as Restricted Use Wilderness Area.

The designation allows for new mineral claims and road access to new and old claims. The amount of surface disturbance at any one time is capped.

Government officials have also indicated new developments in the wilderness area will be managed more carefully, though no guidelines have been produced.

The remaining 17,928 square kilometres or 27 per cent is business as usual.

The Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in of Dawson City and Mayo’s First Nation of Na-cho Nyak Dun and the two environmental organizations argue the government breached the land use planning process enshrined in the aboriginal land claim agreements.

“Companies considering industrial exploration or development in the Peel region until this lawsuit is resolved do so at their own risk,” Karen Baltgailis of the conservation society said in a press release the day the lawsuit was filed. “The tide of public opinion will be against anyone who tries to develop in the region.”

The government has not yet filed its statement of defence, but must do on or before Feb. 18.

The Gwich’in vice-president said they were hopeful the Peel land use plan would result in the same type of collaborative land use process that’s been adopted for the Gwich’in traditional territory inside the Northwest Territories.

Like the Yukon First Nations, said Snowshoe, the Gwich’in wanted full protection of the Peel watershed but were willing to accept the planning commission’s recommendation for 80 per cent protection.

He said the Yukon government’s land use plan is unacceptable, and the Gwich’in wanted to publicize their objection prior to filing the lawsuit to get their position on the record.

“As much information as we can get out with regards to how the government abandoned the process and did it on their own the better for us.”

See letter.

CommentsAdd a comment

June Jackson

Feb 5, 2014 at 9:16 pm

The Paslawski government does not listen to anyone about anything.. a public consultation is meaningless.

The only players in this scenario that have any power might be the First Nations..frankly I do not care what argument they use if the end result is protection of the Peel and a ban on fracking..

Oh Please

Feb 8, 2014 at 3:10 pm

Yesiree the Yukon Party YTG better lay off some of those geologists and others in the Mining Department and hire a lot more lawyers cause that is where they are going to be for the rest of their mandate!!

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