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Samson Hartland

Settlement land withdrawn from staking

The Yukon Chamber of Mines is seeking a legal opinion regarding Premier Sandy Silver’s decision to withdraw a portion of Indigenous settlement land from mineral staking.

By Chuck Tobin on February 10, 2020

The Yukon Chamber of Mines is seeking a legal opinion regarding Premier Sandy Silver’s decision to withdraw a portion of Indigenous settlement land from mineral staking.

Samson Hartland, the chamber’s executive director, said this morning they’re seeking to understand whether the Yukon government has the legal right to do what it did on Thursday.

Energy, Mines and Resources Minister Ranj Pillai said this morning they have checked with their lawyers and they do have the right to withdraw the land they have identified.

It’s in the public good and it’s with the support of the 11 self-governing First Nations, he said.

Under the Umbrella Final Agreement (UFA), the foundation for land claim settlements in the territory, there are different categories of settlement land.

There is land known as category A land which gives First Nations ownership of the surface and subsurface, or whatever lies below the surface.

There is also category B land, which gives the First Nations title to the surface but not the subsurface, not what lies beneath. Ownership of category B land is described as having fee simple title, the same type of land title homeowners have to their property.

First Nations also selected site specific lands, or small parcels of lands that have been used forever for specific things like hunting and fishing, just like Helen’s Fish Camp on Lake Laberge.

Site specific lands call for fee simple title, or title to the surface only.

Under the UFA, lands other than category A lands were to remain open to staking mineral claims, and to have the right to mine those claims should the claims prove to be commercially viable.

As a result of the order-in-council (OIC) passed last Thursday by Silver and his cabinet, the right to stake claims on site specific land has been withdrawn. The withdrawal does not affect mineral claims already recorded.

Under the UFA, a total of 25,899 square kilometres of settlement land has been identified as category A, with First Nations having surface and subsurface ownership.

Another 15,539 square kilometres is category B land, or surface ownership only. There is also a total of 155 square kilometres of site specific lands which have surface ownership only.

Of that total, for instance, the Kwanlin Dün First Nation has 6.79 square kilometres of site specific land selections while the Carcross-Tagish First Nation has 7.5 square kilometres.

Hartland said he misspoke Thursday when he was contacted by a government official informing him of the order-in-council. He said he told the official the chamber was in support because it was in keeping with the chamber’s stated position of a few years ago.

Hartland told the Star today he was incorrect Thursday, and after checking the record, he noted that what the chamber supported, and still supports, is that companies notify affected First Nations of any intent to stake a claim on fee simple settlement land.

It did not support the withdrawal of those lands from staking mineral claims, he said.

Hartland said the amount of land affected by the OIC is relatively small at .06 per cent of the total land mass in the Yukon. And they are community lands that wouldn’t likely be sought after in any case, just like a company isn’t likely to stake a mineral claim under Helen’s Fish Camp, he said.

The point, said Hartland, is that there was no communication from Silver or his cabinet that they were going to do this. It begs the question whether there’s more to come, he said.

Hartland said they are seeking a legal opinion to determine whether this is a change to the UFA, because changes to the UFA – changes to the Constitution of Canada – need to be approved by the Yukon government, First Nations and Ottawa.

There’s no signature from Ottawa on Thursday’s OIC, he pointed out.

Hartland said they they are seeking a legal opinion about what this might mean if the government wants to withdraw staking on some of the larger parcels of category B land, known as R-blocks.

Pillai noted he’s had conversations with chamber representatives in the past and they’ve voiced their support for the withdrawal of staking on site specific land selections.

“We are doing it now because it is in the public good in our discussions with industry, in our discussions with First Nations,” he told the Star.

Pillai said their legal opinion says they have the ability to make changes to the UFA that are in the public good with the support of the 11 self-governing First Nations, even without Ottawa’s signature.

The government has no intention of withdrawing mineral staking on the larger R-blocks of category B land, he said.

He did note, however, the government is willing to discuss on a case-by-case basis the withdrawal of a specific sites inside a large R-block that were not selected initially by a First Nation as a site specific.

If there is an old trapper’s cabin inside an R-block that has been there since the beginning of time but was not selected initially, the government is prepared to sit down with the First Nation and discuss withdrawing staking on the specific site, Pillai said.

Comments (11)

Up 0 Down 1

G. O. Kay-Sherr on Feb 16, 2020 at 8:46 pm

Yo - Miles Epanhauser on Feb 12, 2020 at 4:40 pm - It seems a great deal more fair to abide by a signed contract between parties rather than live with the perpetual uncertainty of, but we meant... But we wanted...

Up 15 Down 29

Miles Epanhauser on Feb 12, 2020 at 4:40 pm

So, FNs identified special areas they wanted to set aside but did not specify they wanted further protection for these areas by protecting them from mining.

Seems fair to not allow these areas to be staked and mined.

Up 29 Down 10

Groucho d'North on Feb 12, 2020 at 2:00 pm

The UFA took years of dedicated work by people well-studied in what they were doing to remain within the accepted legal framework of the Yukon and Canada. Now it appears this work is being altered after a coffee meeting with a Liberal minister or two under secrecy. A court challenge will be required of course to determine the legality of their decision on the staking withdrawal. I'd also like to see a court challenge on this government diddling with legal solutions that were negotiated in good faith.

Up 28 Down 12

My Opinion on Feb 12, 2020 at 12:19 pm

@Yukoner

We will never be informed of what negotiations are taking place behind closed doors. Over 40 years of land claims we had no input. Individual First Nations people were kept up to date with monthly meetings. We were not invited.

We had a FINAL agreement. Stick to it. FINAL.

Up 28 Down 10

My Opinion on Feb 12, 2020 at 12:11 pm

“An old trappers cabin that has been there since the BEGINNING OF TIME “ what kind on nonsense talk is that?

Up 36 Down 7

Yukoner on Feb 11, 2020 at 6:33 am

This article provides no detail.. maybe tell us what land is being withdrawn... that would be useful reporting.

Up 41 Down 18

Max Mack on Feb 10, 2020 at 9:46 pm

Samson and the Chamber of Mines has every right to criticize Silver's process, which seems to lie outside the UFA.

Given Silver's clear pattern of withdrawing land from staking and mining, it seems abundantly clear that he is perfectly willing to appease the FNs regardless of the UFA, settlement agreements, or law.

Up 18 Down 17

BnR on Feb 10, 2020 at 6:30 pm

Samson Hartland: just a simple, hard working man...

Up 30 Down 59

Atom on Feb 10, 2020 at 4:30 pm

'Ownership of category B land is described as having fee simple title, the same type of land title homeowners have to their property.'
You heard it here first folks, Cat B land is fee simple!
If the author of this piece had access to any final agreement, a Self-Governing Agreement or a pulse, it would be clear the majority of the lands YFNG's signed off on known as Land Claims, are Not fee simple... a very small amount may be fee simple but those are sprinkled around communities for the most part, as they were formerly registered parcels in the Land Titles Office.
Samson, like his predecessor, has no respect for the Final Agreements and is clearly the right choice for the Heartless job of ignoring the people, land and wildlife in pursuit of future environmental messes we all pay to clean up.
The Little Boys club, as in little boys like to make messes.

Up 66 Down 23

Politico on Feb 10, 2020 at 3:53 pm

Maybe instead of complaining about land being excluded from staking the miners could come up with a way of insure mine cleanup after they go bankrupt.

Up 46 Down 33

Tater on Feb 10, 2020 at 3:16 pm

I hope Ranj explains how this is "... in the public good."

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