Whitehorse Daily Star

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DIALOGUE HAS BROKEN OFF – Rose Kushniruk, the deputy chief of the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations, says Yukon Energy has walked away from talks on the management of Aishihik Lake in southwest Yukon.

Dam ‘severely’ impacting environment: CAFN

A substantial divide over the future of Aishihik Lake has surfaced between the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations and Yukon Energy.

By Chuck Tobin on December 4, 2018

A substantial divide over the future of Aishihik Lake has surfaced between the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations and Yukon Energy.

Rose Kushniruk, Champagne and Aishihik’s deputy chief, says the Crown corporation has walked away from the table because the parties have been unable to agree on how lake levels should be managed in the future.

The existing water licence for the Aishihik hydro facility is scheduled to expire on Dec. 31, 2019.

The First Nations and Yukon Energy were working under a Protocol Agreement signed in 2016 to go forward with an application to relicence the facility for another 25 years, but discussions broke off in September.

The First Nations want to see a return to natural levels for the sake of the lake’s health, Kushniruk explained Monday afternoon during a briefing for reporters in Whitehorse.

She said Yukon Energy, on the other hand, wants to maintain the status quo that’s been in place for more than 40 years for the sake of the bottom line.

“This is unacceptable,” Kushniruk said. “The impacts of the dam on our waters, lands, animals and people are too severe.”

The deputy chief said the Southern Tutchone want to see the lake heal from 44 years of being a large part of the territory’s supply of hydro.

Yukon Energy says the territory simply can’t afford to turn away from the power the Aishihik facility provides. (See separate story, this page.)

Kushniruk told reporters the people living at the Aishihik Village at the north end of the lake were forced by the federal government in the 1960s to relocate to Haines Junction because the government wanted to build a dam.

Before relocation, fish stocks were healthy and plentiful, she said.

She said relocation had a big impact on the lives of people and their culture, and the dam had a negative impact on the fish and wildlife around the lake.

Working under the Protocol Agreement in preparation for the relicensing application was a means of finding common ground going forward with Yukon Energy, the deputy chief explained.

She said they’ve worked together on a wide range of research and studies.

But at a meeting in September, they were unable to reach consensus. Yukon Energy informed Champagne and Aishihik the next day it would be going alone, Kushniruk said.

“This was an opportunity for the Yukon Energy Corporation to work with us and right some wrongs,” she said. “However, they have chosen not to.”

Kushniruk said Chief Steve Smith has written to the corporation but there’s been no response.

The First Nations have raised the concerns with Premier Sandy Silver and Ranj Pillai, the territorial minister responsible for Yukon Energy – but have had no response, she said.

“The story of the Aishihik dam is one of hardship with a legacy of past wrongs and ongoing negative impacts,” Chief Steve Smith said in a press release issued at Monday’s briefing. “We have an opportunity to address these impacts and work together toward a better future. We believe recognition of our rights and the value of our relationship to the land are essential.” Kushniruk said Champagne and Aishihik felt compelled to go public with their concerns yesterday as Yukon Energy is hosting an open house today from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the Canada Games Centre to explain its relicensing application.

It will be holding another open house in Haines Junction, from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. – which Kushniruk said is hardly enough time to adequately address such an important matter.

She said Yukon Energy’s decision to go forward without agreement with the First Nation is both short-sighted and disrespectful.

How matters will unfold as it begins to go through the permitting process with its initial submission to the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board remains to be seen, the deputy chief suggested.

Kushniruk said it’s been 44 years of impact since the hydro facility was first licensed in 1975.

“You know, it is time for change,” she said. “Enough is enough.

“There have been many significant impacts throughout the years. We are not in this just for Champagne-Aishihik, but for all Yukoners.”

Kushniruk said the First Nation knows as well as anyone the value of being able to turn on the lights.

There comes a point when change is required, but Yukon Energy has not stepped up with any alternatives – rather, it’s simply relying on the status quo, she suggested.

Kushniruk suggested the failure of Yukon Energy to come forward with alternatives to draining every ounce of energy out of Aishihik Lake cannot be put on the shoulders of the First Nation.

Comments (39)

Up 23 Down 7

Jim on Dec 9, 2018 at 2:52 pm

@Corey; People are somewhat defensive when you're talking about reducing our power capacity by up to 50%. People will also have to pay for new infrastructure in the multi millions to replace what we have now. And where exactly would they put it that wouldn’t interfere with any other First Nations? Sometimes things are done for the greater good. We are all in the Yukon together and not everyone will be accommodated. We need heat and lights, all of us.

Up 16 Down 4

Mr Rogers on Dec 9, 2018 at 2:00 pm

@ Corey - All those who are making emotionally driven statements calling people racist should be required to post their contact information here so that people can let you know otherwise.

Because a double standard exists and people point it out does not mean that they are racist as you suggest. The existence of a double standard that favours one group over another based on race is racism whether you want to label it affirmative action or not.
Don’t be a jerk - Labeling is not cool. Discussion of thoughts and ideas - Way cool!

Up 14 Down 0

Groucho d'North on Dec 9, 2018 at 1:33 pm

There are two sides to every debate so I went in search of YEC's position and found it here: https://yukonenergy.ca/about-us/news-events/responding-to-concerns-about-the-aishihik-relicensing. From this information it appears the sticking point is about water levels. CAFN wants the natural levels to be as they were prior to the construction of the dam. Using this year as an example- there is much less snow on the ground so I'd expect next years water levels to be scant, therefore I'd expect YEC not to draw the lake level down to their licence minimum, but allow the water levels to rebuild. No water means no juice, so YEC will need to burn fossil fuels anyway.

Up 18 Down 29

Corey on Dec 8, 2018 at 6:57 pm

All the people making racist comments should put your name on here!! Fly your flags loud and proud or shut up!

Up 16 Down 2

Roger Rondeau on Dec 8, 2018 at 1:31 pm

Grouch d/nor and any others interested you can go into the Yukon Water Board processes for Aishihik relicencing and find out facts about conditions of the lake and aquatic wildlife and habitat.

Up 17 Down 34

Good grief 2 on Dec 7, 2018 at 9:20 pm

@lynx. CAFN used the area of Aisihihik for generations. There was a vibrant village there and people lived there throughout the year. The dam was built without any meaningful involvement from the CAFN. As a result of the dam, the water levels fluctuated severely and this damaged the eco-system and the habitat for fish, moose, beavers, etc. In particular, the CAFN were unable to set fish nets due to the low water levels. In the end, the village was abandoned since people could not maintain a subsistence way of life due to the wildly fluctuating water levels and water quality concerns. This deeply impacted the affected families since their parents, grandparents, etc. had inhabited this area and had deep ties to this area. This has been a long-standing grievance for those people. Go ask CAFN if you need more information.
A few years ago, residents in the Marsh Lake area screamed when water levels were proposed to fluctuate due to the dam, Yukon Energy jumped. If you are a CAFN citizen or other Yukon First Nation, there seems to be a double-standard here.

Up 37 Down 4

Tyler on Dec 7, 2018 at 9:05 pm

I don't fully understand how folks expect to live in a place without impacting and influencing the inhabited area. Seems we want something from nothing. In the Yukon this phenomenon is illustrated by the controversy surrounding our energy policies. At a certain point there is a need to generate energy and liberate carbon in order to maintain our standard of living, but these days all we seem to desire is the exact opposite.

Our current grid runs on the brink of its maximum capacity. There were four Cat generators on South Access last year. This year there are even more homes in Whistle Bend (all super green, tight with insulation and thus heated by electrons so as not to create CO news headlines). Now surprise, surprise - this year there are six. Add recently increased capacity from our natural gas generators and the picture is clear; we do not generate enough power to supply our residential and commercial needs. With the table set, let's pause and think about out next actions.

To this reality most people would move to increase our generation output. But nope - not in the Yukon. We have a ton of our own natural gas up 'round Eagle Plains that we're seemingly not allowed to touch. Instead we opt to burn it after importing from other jurisdictions, making pretend that our own stool doesn't stink. But more than simply refraining from expanding our capacity, here in the Territory we actively look to scuttle generation that we already have. It truly boggles the mind. We are backward.

This year I put a wood stove in my house. The previous owner of my place installed an electric forced-air furnace in an effort to be green. Previously I would have extended apologies to those reliant on the grid, but now thanks to a nice Blaze King my 18 000 watt electric meter-spinner hasn't fired since the mercury fell. I say goodbye to monster energy bills while simultaneously providing myself with a redundant heat source. I feel I will need it. At current pace we are destined for brownouts sooner rather than later.

Good luck to Yukon Energy to keep the infrastructure that you already have. If you somehow manage to keep it running against current opposition then please continue planning and implementing for future growth. We need it badly. Why vocal segments of the population - highlighted in this story, plus in many others - feel the need to rail against the entire Territory's pressing need is beyond me.

I must be out of touch ...

Up 9 Down 22

Iceface on Dec 7, 2018 at 7:23 pm

YEC which is a political bureaucratic tool to push what certain folks want in the Yukon, ie. fracked LNG, YEC continues to play games with the needs, resources, and CAFN people of their traditional territory. Over the years the development of these projects were damaging to the First Nations people first that were connected to the land. Be interesting to go deeper in a review of YEC and its operations.

Is YEC by design intentional to destroy every natural process of fish and wildlife in the Yukon? Should YEC be in charge of doctored science to support the status quo in its operation? Should there be a third party review of all waterways that are used by YEC to produce power?
In this time of climate change should there be a review of all assessment processes for these water bodies that are integral to so many species we humans benefit from?

Up 13 Down 18

Rural Resident on Dec 7, 2018 at 4:34 pm

I like Roger"s account of what took place. If you take something away from a person or group you should give it back or compensate them for the loss.

Up 28 Down 4

Double standard? on Dec 7, 2018 at 4:26 pm

Hmmm interesting. CAFN and YG have zero issue with a recent complete clear-cutting of wide swaths of kilometres of trees off the Alaska highway north of Whitehorse for a grazing lease. A citizen of CAFN took in heavy equipment and bulldozed their way through numerous wetlands without one bit of concern for the animals habitat they just totally destroyed. Not to mention the local trails they also ruined and made unusable. Trees are busted and left in massive piles and the trails used by locals and wildlife are now completely ruined and replaced with barbed wire fencing.

There have been many complaints about this to YG, YESAB and CAFN and no one seems to give a crap. The impact of this clear cutting is massive. They were not allowed to bring in bulldozers to do this, and it could have been done on a much less destructive scale.

Why doesn't the significant impact to the environment matter in this case but it does for the dam?

Up 16 Down 39

my opinion on Dec 7, 2018 at 1:57 pm

I fully support the first nation in their concern for the ecosystem in the area. And also, though it happened decades ago, it sounds like Yukon Energy got away with completely disregarding them when they flooded the area in the first place. I'm not sure what we can do about that now, but it should be acknowledged.

The suggestion to go mini-nuclear was not a joke. Maybe we really should consider it as the least environmentally damaging option. As crazy as that sounds.

Up 12 Down 3

Groucho d'North on Dec 7, 2018 at 1:31 pm

Thank you Mr. Rondeau for that historic overview of the lake since the dam was constructed. I suspect there is plenty of study material on the health of the drainage system as required by licencing hearings. Where would the public find such data if they wanted to learn more about these matters?

Up 20 Down 3

Capitan on Dec 7, 2018 at 1:23 pm

I'm not a fan of Yukon Energy, but there's just no comparison in the way the two sides are presenting their perspectives.

Up 13 Down 58

Havana on Dec 6, 2018 at 11:12 pm

If your not a CAFN citizen you shouldn’t be having a say it’s CAFN land not government! Saying natives just want money is a load of .... they work and pay taxes just like any other so for people to be saying rude and disrespectful stuff just shows how u are not them! Racism still exists and that’s lame for this day and age. Grow up people! Just dust off the old land claims book. They are set in stone for a reason with the government so they can run their own and monies owed to the First Nations!!!!!!!!

Up 39 Down 4

Lynx on Dec 6, 2018 at 7:46 pm

@Good Grief - What are the impacts to the lake and surrounding areas? CAFN is being very vague if that is their claim. Please be specific on what the horrible impacts are and why they justify turning off our biggest source of green energy and resorting back to more diesel and natural gas. If the harmful effects are very serious then CAFN should explain them. This would clear everything up and there would be less of a backlash from the public. But until then, people will rightfully be skeptical.

Up 13 Down 19

good grief - ... but that's exactly the point on Dec 6, 2018 at 5:12 pm

Just because it is a different perspective does not mean that it is wrong or invalid.

"I am disappointed that my fellow Yukoners fail to understand the Yukon First Nations. The comments are so uninformed and ignorant. Clearly CAFN is not opposed to electricity! Or trucks or whatever else. But they are concerned about the impacts to the lake and surrounding resources which has displaced the traditional community there. They raised these concerns in previous water board hearings. "

That's the exact problem. YFN are fine with condemning an action when there is no economic benefit to themselves. YET, they are for the action when there is a benefit. YFN concerns = lakes + surrounding areas?
Then please remove all YFN projects that currently harm lakes + surrounding areas.

Up 19 Down 23

Roger Rondeau on Dec 6, 2018 at 5:07 pm

You need to understand the history of this Aishihik dam and energy project. It was developed by the Feds when there was a need to develop power for Faro mine and there was very little to no oversight on such projects. Some say officials flew over various areas of the Yukon and basically put a pin in this watershed, not really studying the consequences nor outcomes. It was in a relatively dry area and a long distance from Faro, but the powers that be also wanted to open up the grid for the Yukon. So, it was built at a huge cost overrun and poorly managed and constructed. Then the lake drainage process was also set up for maximum usage of the water resources, again with little or no real consultation nor study. They drained the lake so severe that the back end of Aishihik was left as a dry swamp. This area was naturally full of water in the spring and all the fish used this as their spawning area...i.e. white fish, pike, lake trout and all the smaller feeder fish and critters. It proved devestating to all the lakes fish population. Then the YEC let the water rise for the next onslaught of water supply for winter storage. Then drain it again! This went on for a number of years until FN and other interested parties fought against this unjust thinking. The water license was reviewed and reduced considerably and may or may not be sustaining for the fish populations and other acqautic wildlife. It is entirely on the shoulders of Yukon Energy to prove beyond any doubt that their new water license request will not continue to devastate the lake and its acquatic life. There will have to be some compromise with the CAFN for this to fly or we are in trouble to resolve our energy crisis.

Up 44 Down 7

Karl on Dec 6, 2018 at 4:11 pm

Rural, it sounds like you're ok with writing off the $220 million (in today's dollars) of capital investment by Canadian taxpayers on this "short lived" facility?

Up 10 Down 53

Rural Resident on Dec 6, 2018 at 2:16 pm

@Groucho d'North

You said "I did find a brief yet blurry overview of the present situation and how it became so, but still no clear description of these heinous key issues."

What do you mean? The CAFN position is very clear, you seem to have a very murky colonial perspective of the situation. To request a short lived hydroelectric facility be removed and an aquatic system be returned to a previous state is not unreasonable. Dams have been removed on many aquatic systems with remarkable positive changes that quickly follow.

Up 58 Down 19

Had enough of this on Dec 6, 2018 at 1:24 pm

We already don't have enough power from hydro production - hence the diesels running pretty steadily when cold weather hits. It's not even a matter of how much money the corp will lose, it's that the power generation isn't there! So, CAFN, if you want to decommission the dam, where's that 37 MEGA watts of power going to come from? You'll be the first to go without power, right?

Up 10 Down 57

Rural Resident on Dec 5, 2018 at 9:27 pm

It sounds like there was a lack of consultation when this dam was installed which is out of step with modern land claims and self government agreements.
It also seems like Yukon Energy and people on the grid will not support removing the dam at this time.

My solution is to propose the dam be decommissioned when a reliable source of increased electrical production is in place.
Any new production should have backup production to ensure we are not left in the dark.

Up 28 Down 69

Good grief on Dec 5, 2018 at 7:13 pm

These comments are disheartening. I am disappointed that my fellow Yukoners fail to misunderstand the Yukon First Nations. The comments are so uninformed and ignorant. Clearly CAFN is not opposed to electricity! Or trucks or whatever else. But they are concerned about the impacts to the lake and surrounding resources which has displaced the traditional community there. They raised these concerns in previous water board hearings. Unfortunately Yukon Energy seems to be prepared to push forward. I am not suggesting that CAFN has a veto, but they have a right to raise their concerns and Yukon Energy has an obligation to make best efforts to accommodate those concerns.
Folks, we have seen this before where the YG tried to argue that they had the final say on Crown lands despite the provisions of the land claim agreements, go read the Supreme Court of Canada's decision in the Peel case. People need to stop with the elementary knee-jerk rhetoric and try to listen and understand what CAFN is saying. Just because it is a different perspective does not mean that it is wrong or invalid.

Up 44 Down 5

Groucho d'North on Dec 5, 2018 at 4:11 pm

Frankly, I am getting tired of all the half comments and positioning statements made by the CAFN regarding “the key issues and ongoing impacts of the dam” What are they? Be clear and state your complaints for all to hear and understand. Perhaps you’ll capture more support for your position. I went to the CAFN website seeking more information and I did find a brief yet blurry overview of the present situation and how it became so, but still no clear description of these heinous key issues. There are references to high water concerns back in the 70s thru late 90s, this is the most descriptive of what may be considered a key issue. Take a look for yourselves. https://cafn.ca/cafn-opposes-yukon-energys-approach-to-aishihik-hydro-facility-relicensing/
Click on Fact sheet for more

Up 80 Down 24

jack on Dec 5, 2018 at 3:00 pm

WOW!! I agree with Jake the time for social license to be a thing of the past. Governments make the final determination with meaningful consultation. With timelines and parameters. Arguing till the cows come home to try to stall and kill, is over. Yukon Energy is making the right move.

Up 85 Down 29

North_of_60 on Dec 5, 2018 at 12:19 pm

There is no scientific evidence whatsoever that the environment of Aishihik lake has been adversely affected by the hydro dam. We have freely shared our technology with aboriginals. Either support the Yukon Energy water license application or disconnect from the Yukon Energy grid and generate your own electricity.

Up 82 Down 29

relocation of a nomadic tribe on Dec 5, 2018 at 12:10 pm

You're saying that a nomadic group of people that had no permanent settlement had an effect on the Aishihik?
Did you drive to work? Do you speak English? Do you ever buy groceries? <--- DOGMA AND PRAGMATISM

No; what I'm saying is that through natural courses the world has changed. You can't say that you don't benefit from electricity.

What about all of those Castle Rock diesel trucks that are polluting the environment? What about all of those roads being built using concrete? Those are disturbing traditional lands. But the big difference is you're getting a chunk of money from it. Can you explain how Castle Rock has anything to do with linking yourself to your culture?

... or would you like to explain the truth about the junked mill that CAFN purchased and took a loss on? Or the huge loss that attacked the principal when the young generation came in and purchased a swath of equipment?

CAFN Citizens recognize that economic development will involve trade-offs.
Even your website uses a photograph that shows the Shawshe people... did you invent the camera? Nope! But you are reaping the benefits of it.

I've never worked with such a selfish, entitled, and ignorant group in my life.
https://cafn.ca/about/history-of-cafn/

Keep living off of modernity while pretending you're protecting culture.

Up 85 Down 12

jake on Dec 5, 2018 at 9:37 am

I agree with most of the comments here. Social license does not mean veto. Problem is Lands, Water, and Air belong to all of us. Responsible stewardship needs to have the input of all Canadians. First Nations do have a special interest that should be recognized and respected. But at the end of the day it should be up to the Government of the Day to make the final decision. It has gotten out of hand. Social License has put this country in jeopardy, just look at the mess in Alberta. Time for Governments to grow a set, and take charge, making the choices that benefit all Canadians.

Up 72 Down 7

BnR on Dec 5, 2018 at 8:28 am

In her comments, the CAFN spokesperson made it sound like the water levels were drastically changed. As I recall, the water levels were never raised beyond normal high water. Now if the lakes level is low, is that less from YEC and more from the fact that there was a low precipitation year? Everything has been low in the Southern Yukon.
Re. CAFN being removed from the North end of Aishihik, was the fact a dam was being built really the reason? The water levels were never meant to go higher than normal high water, nothing was flooded.... Is there some documentation that people could access that would shed light on this?
If the CAFN has some legitimate grievances, that's one thing, but the issues raised aren't adding up.

Up 56 Down 11

here's an idea on Dec 4, 2018 at 11:40 pm

Let's go mini-nuclear and be done with it. Get rid of ATCO while we're at it. Just a thought.

Up 78 Down 10

North_of_60 on Dec 4, 2018 at 10:05 pm

These people should go off grid and generate all their own electricity.

Up 79 Down 12

Lynx on Dec 4, 2018 at 9:49 pm

I agree with Time to Go. If they really want to end hydro power and put us all on fossil fuels again so be it. Let's start fracking. Also, if the lake has been at the same level for over 40 years, then nature has adapted and this has become the new normal. All of the plants and animals in the area will have adapted. You would actually cause more harm by reducing the levels now. This doesn't make sense. The FN must have some other angle here.

Up 59 Down 11

At home in the Yukon on Dec 4, 2018 at 9:09 pm

I think this dialogue needs a little reality therapy. We non-first-nation people are going to live our industrialized life. We are going to use energy. Energy can be produced using global warming producing fossil fuel, or it can use non-global warming producing technologies such as, oh, I don't know, hydroelectricity.

So, the Aishihik lake can take some environmental difference, or the whole darn planet can heat up even faster. Hmmm.

Up 81 Down 22

Joe on Dec 4, 2018 at 8:49 pm

Selfish opportunistics. Build a new dam somewhere else and let indegenous group find their own power, plow their own roads and build their own hospitals. Easy solution, you're in or you're out.

Up 21 Down 87

How much compensation does CAFN get? on Dec 4, 2018 at 8:03 pm

CAFN should get some compensation for the dam...it's on their land. Discussions need to happen.

Up 18 Down 34

Yukoner on Dec 4, 2018 at 7:10 pm

In the end this dispute is all about money. I' m sure if the profit is shared fairly the parties can come to a mutually beneficial agreement. It wouldn't be in anyone's interest to loose the Aishihik hydro power.

Up 120 Down 12

Pay Wall on Dec 4, 2018 at 4:30 pm

I get that newspapers have to make money but it seems unfair to Yukon Energy to have this article on the public section of the website while Yukon Energy's response is behind the paywall...

Up 93 Down 18

Tater on Dec 4, 2018 at 4:22 pm

I just read a study from 2010 (http://www.env.gov.yk.ca/publications-maps/documents/status_yukon_fisheries2010.pdf ). It shows no significant issues with the lake that I could find.

Up 64 Down 14

Two sides on Dec 4, 2018 at 3:42 pm

Here is Yukon Energy's response to this story:

https://yukonenergy.ca/about-us/news-events/responding-to-concerns-about-the-aishihik-relicensing

Up 127 Down 28

Time to go on Dec 4, 2018 at 3:12 pm

So CAFN understands that we need power, themselves included. But they want the dam eliminated and water returned to levels of 40 years ago. Do they even listen to themselves? So what is their answer? Or they don’t care what it is and not their problem to figure out. Where is the scientific data on this? Do they have different data than Yukon Energy? Would they be happier with a bunch of diesel generators? Meaningful consultation does not mean you automatically get your way. Coming to the table just to bitch and expect everyone to figure out a solution so you can have your way is a little over the top. Sometimes after 40 years there is no reasonable solution for what you want. I guess we’ll see how our weak leadership handles this.

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