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DAMAGE EXERTS A HIGH TOLL – The destruction of wetlands means the disruption of the spiritual and cultural connection the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in First Nation has with the land, Chief Roberta Joseph has told the Yukon Water Board.

Wetlands degradation beyond repair, say FN groups

Placer mining in wetlands, particularly in the Indian River Valley, must stop, say representatives of the Tr’ondëk Hwëchin.

By Chuck Tobin on October 28, 2020

Placer mining in wetlands, particularly in the Indian River Valley, must stop, say representatives of the Tr’ondëk Hwëchin.

Chief Roberta Joseph and several other representatives of the Dawson City First Nation made presentations Tuesday to the Yukon Water Board during the first of three days of public interest hearings into the issue of placer mining in wetlands.

This morning opened with submissions from the Klondike Placer Mining Association and Ducks Unlimited.

Mayo’s First Nation of Nacho Nyak Dün and the Yukon Chamber of Mines were scheduled to address the board this afternoon.

Chief Joseph said their citizens and their government are very concerned about the cumulative impact placer mining has had on their lands and traditional territory.

The Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in have a deep cultural and spiritual connection to the land, water and wildlife, Joseph told the board during the virtual hearing.

She said wetlands are essential to the health of the land, the health of fish and wildlife the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in depend on.

Wetlands have an important ecological function as they ensure water quality, they maintain water volumes and they sequester carbon, the chief insisted.

Joseph said wetlands provide habitat for wildlife, it’s where citizens of the First Nation have hunted and fished for thousands of years.

Destroy the wetlands, she said, and you disrupt that spiritual and cultural connection the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in have with the land.

“The Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in have a cultural and traditional obligation to be stewards of the land,” said the chief, who was recently elected to her third term in office.

Joseph said damage to wetlands caused by placer mining cannot be reclaimed, or returned to their natural state.

When wetlands are destroyed, people have fewer places to fish and hunt, they lose that cultural and traditional connection to lands that have sustained them, she said.

The chief said the placer mining in the Indian River Valley has caused extensive degradation.

The damage is already beyond repair, regardless of what reclamation efforts are made, she said.

Joseph noted the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board (YESAB) decided in 2016 that placer mining in wetlands should not be allowed.

Yet the Yukon government continues to permit it, she said.

The chief pointed out the First Nation has 14 parcels of settlement land in the Indian River Valley.

Darren Taylor is the director of Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in’s Department of Natural Resouces who also served as chief for nine years from 1998 – the year the First Nation signed its land claim and self-government agreements – to 2007.

Taylor painted a bleak picture of the impact placer mining has had on the Indian River Valley and its wetlands.

‘It is depressing because of all the changes,” Taylor told the board, adding he no longer takes children there, or his children’s children.

“Part of ourselves die when our relationship to the land changes.”

When the young people walk along the tailings left behind by placer mining, he said, they feel a sense of loss.

Taylor said the Dawson area is more at risk of negative impacts from placer mining than anywhere else in the Yukon, and it’s reaching a tipping point.

“If we continue to destroy the land and water with no regard, we will replicate what happened in the Indian River throughout our traditional territory,” he told the board.

Taylor said it’s death by 1,000 cuts, or 1,000 projects.

There are lessons that need to be learned from the mistakes made in the Indian River Valley, he said.

Both Taylor and Chief Joseph called on the water board to make sure there is no further damage to wetlands.

Both said they are not opposed to mining, but it needs to be done in a responsible and sensitive manner.

One of five Tr’ondëk elders who addressed the board said wetlands are an essential and integral part of the ecosystem.

Once a system is put out of balance, it’s out of balance, she said.

“You don’t know how far you’ve gone until you go too far.”

The chief said the First Nation has fundamental rights created through their land claim and self-government agreements that ensure its participation managing the land.

The Yukon Conservation Society (YCS) and CPAWS argued the water board needs to have more comprehensive information on individual applications to make informed decisions.

It needs to understand the cumulative impacts of several operations in one watershed like the Indian River watershed.

There is a fundamental need to establish guidelines for reclamation of placer mines, along with creating a method of evaluating the success of reclamation efforts and ongoing monitoring for years to come, they suggested.

Sebastian Jones of the conservation society told board members the Yukon government currently reviews reclamation plans on its own.

“YCS is extremely concerned with the current state of affairs, where affected First Nations, mandated boards and committees and other stakeholders have little or no input to reclamation plans,” said Jones.

“It must be noted that not only has the Yukon water board been declining to approve disturbing the Indian River wetlands without a proven reclamation plan, but YESAB has been recommending against further disturbance, degradation and destruction of these wetlands, as have First Nations and conservation groups such as ourselves and DUC (Ducks Unlimited).

“In fact, the only people who seem to think that mining in the remaining wetlands in the Indian River is a good idea are placer miners,” Jones said.

Randi Newton of CPAWS suggested the Indian River watershed is already at or beyond the threshold of being able to bounce back from further interruptions to wetlands in the valley.

A guiding principle in assessing mining applications needs to be the assurance that the wetlands can be restored to an acceptable state afterwards, that impacts can be mitigated, including cumulative impacts throughout the watershed, she said.

Newton said if it can’t be demonstrated that impacts can be mitigated and reclamation to suitable standards can be achieved, mining should not be allowed.

There must be no net loss of the benefits wetlands provide as a result of placer mining, she insisted.

Newton said the water board should require financial security to ensure reclamation plans are carried out to the standards expected.

Comments (32)

Up 0 Down 1

Darren Taylor on Nov 4, 2020 at 2:42 pm

@ Yukoner 71
I did work for a 4 man crew many years ago in the late 80's for about three years until I was offered a job at TH. IT was not wages from mining during this time that purchased my so called "nice shiny new truck". In fact back then I drove a beat up 1979 GMC, hardly shiny or new. My shiny new vehicle purchase was a result of my wages received from working for Tro'ndek Hwech'in for approximately 27 years. Another point of clarification to the media, I started work in November of 1990 for TH, and did three terms as Chief from 1999 to 2008, the remainder of the time after that was spent in the Lands and Resources Department.

Up 0 Down 4

Spud on Nov 3, 2020 at 10:39 pm

Attn: Mr. Nobi, climb out from under your rock and have a look around. We are in the middle of a world wide pandemic. The reason we are in this situation is because the human race continues to put the almighty dollar ahead of the environment. Until we do a much better job of being responsible developers, we are headed to a very uncertain future.

Up 3 Down 0

Martin on Nov 3, 2020 at 7:36 pm

@Spud; most likely all of it. I see often that FN getting investments deals never prior announced, and not available to the public. It is like there is a secret association pact between Canada and FN. I don't see anything wrong with it, I just would like to see FN appreciating the generous hand of Canada, not available to "settlers" . W.R.T. "settlers", those are the ones guaranteeing that the 1800's FN were not overrun by other forces risking the same outcome as the navajos, apaches, sioux and the likes. As per these days, settlers are educating FN children to succeed in the modern world, that contrary the FN "way of knowing" won't get FN students into ivy league schools.

Up 5 Down 2

Obi on Nov 3, 2020 at 12:59 pm

Attn Mr. Potato Head!
I would love to agree with your opinion, but then we would both be wrong.

Up 4 Down 19

Spud on Nov 3, 2020 at 12:13 pm

Gnd, yes, progress again! There is a difference between traditional territory and crown lands. Bottom line, WE have to make better, smarter land use decisions moving forward. We cannot always put the almighty dollar ahead of the environment moving forward, we need to consider what we will leave future generations. The argument that you can improve wet lands and what they provide is just ignorant.

Up 15 Down 4

Wilf Carter on Nov 2, 2020 at 1:10 pm

The real question here gold is found in wetlands because it's heavy and collects in lowest part of land mass. Wetlands hold most of the gold found any where in Canada. In Europe and other parts of the world mining like Yukon is done in a responsible manner. Wetlands can be made better for fish and other species. Europe has improved wetlands by doing this.
We can't just stop mining and then start it up again just like that. It would be like closing all our gas stations and opening them up after checking them for proper storage.
If we want to make adjustments to how mining is done, let's work together with all of us creating a more satisfactory mining program over time.
Once a business closes it has no money to operate and employees don't have a job. So the investment leaves and so does the jobs.
The results of this that investors do not trust government when trying to do business in Yukon.
Canada has lost over $100 billion in investment due to uncertainty of government actions toward businesses

Up 18 Down 3

Groucho d'North on Nov 1, 2020 at 10:29 am

@Spud
Looks like you skipped past a definition while doing your UFA homework;
"Crown Land" means land vested from time to time in Her Majesty in Right of Canada, whether the administration and control thereof is appropriated to the Commissioner of the Yukon or not, but does not include Settlement Land.

Have you ever wondered why these documents have not been re-issed in plain language lay-term versions?

Up 5 Down 34

Spud on Oct 31, 2020 at 4:02 pm

Martin it would be great to see how much of that two billion actually made it to First Nation people, most it sucked up by the settlers that make up the vast majortiy of DIA and favored contractors.

Up 5 Down 24

Spud on Oct 31, 2020 at 3:59 pm

Traditional Territory is a defined term that comes out of the Umbrella Final Agreement (Yukon)
"Traditional Territory" means, subject to a Yukon First Nation Final Agreement, with respect to each Yukon First Nation and each Yukon Indian Person enrolled in that Yukon First Nation's Final Agreement, the geographic area within the Yukon identified as that Yukon First Nation's Traditional Territory on the map referred to in 2.9.0.
Instead of trying to change the terms that are in the FINAL agreement, just read it. That way you will understand why we have the term.

Up 15 Down 3

Cognitive Dissonance on Oct 31, 2020 at 12:59 pm

"My European ancestors settled this land"
"My people have a spiritual connection to the land"
I fully agree.

Up 25 Down 2

Martin on Oct 30, 2020 at 7:20 pm

@Max Mack: I heard on the CBC News at 5:30 PM that this year, FNs got an extra 2 billions from Canada.

Up 34 Down 2

drum on Oct 30, 2020 at 6:50 pm

Crown lands - we all have a say. Not FN Lands - they can gave opinions just like the rest of us.

Up 51 Down 4

Grouchop d'North on Oct 30, 2020 at 2:15 pm

A reminder that these traditional territories are another way of saying crown or commissioner's land, where everybody gets an equal opportunity to comment. First nations can participate as well, but they do not enjoy any special consideration in the decision making. Equality, where we are all the same - isn't that what we are supposed to be working towards?
Sometimes the hyperbole gets loose and needs to get brought back into reality.

Up 9 Down 40

Spud on Oct 30, 2020 at 1:19 pm

Min Max, don't recall the FNs getting gobs of cash and opportunities when is came to the Peel or Tombstone for that matter. And why shouldn't they receive benefits from development? I think your comment is weak and is therefore nothing more then trying to make the FNs look bad. I think the FNs work well with industry, like I said, sometimes we have to think about protecting land and water for future generations. Get a grip and stop being so divisive, this is about working together and thinking about more then just ourselves.

Up 33 Down 8

Yukoner '71 on Oct 30, 2020 at 12:15 pm

I'm sure glad to see Darren Taylor state he's not against mining, considering working for placer miners used to be his job and kept him in nice shiny new pickup trucks. Go Bruins!

Up 51 Down 8

Max Mack on Oct 30, 2020 at 8:05 am

@Spud

You say, "some places are out of bounds".
But it appears that literally everywhere in the Yukon is out of bounds. FNs and their anti-industry brethren (CPAWS, YCS, etc) oppose activity everywhere we look.

Unless FN get a big chunk of the cash and opportunities - then they all change their tune. Let's call this what it is.

Up 22 Down 43

Spud on Oct 29, 2020 at 3:49 pm

Some of the comments for this story are so down right ignorant. Both First Nations have a strong history of supporting the mineral development industry in their traditional territories. Now both FNs also have opposed developments in certain areas of their traditional lands, Tombstone, Peel Watershed, Dome subdivision come to mind.
Yes we all use natural resources and require them moving forward, with that said some places are out of bounds and I think the FNs are saying this area is off limits. End of story.

Up 38 Down 13

justsayin' on Oct 29, 2020 at 2:46 pm

I think the onus needs be put on the Government to update their legislation to represent all YUKONERS, not a specific demographic. Let's have some forward thought, when these wetlands change or dry up, can they be mined then? IF they are imploded with water due to climate change can they be dredged then? TH speaks of Traditional Knowledge, when are Yukoners who have been here for generations, when is their knowledge going to be considered TK?

Up 60 Down 11

Nature lover on Oct 29, 2020 at 12:55 pm

The hypocrisy of some "environmentalists" is stunning.
Against bitumen in pipelines,but they want railcars transporting it for paved roads.
Against new hydro projects,but trucking diesel to rental generators instead.
Against gold mining,but using gold in micro chips in their phones,computers etc.
Against activity in wetlands but pumping Whitehorse sewage into them.
Against mines,but throwing millions of tons of toxic waste into the old mine at the Whitehorse dump.

Placer mining creates wetlands .
It creates unfrozen, second growth that has the highest density of wildlife in The Yukon.
Don't be swayed by the "environmental" groups and their marxist agenda.

Up 41 Down 3

Obi on Oct 29, 2020 at 12:34 pm

Re Wetlands, I see that Sebastian Jones of the conservation society mentions the great work that Ducks Unlimited do in the name of conservation. The truth be told, Ducks Unlimited was founded to provide habitat for wildfowl, so that 100,000 duck hunters in the USA can shoot the crap out of our Yukon born ducks. It was founded by hunters for hunters. Conservation is a nice way of selling its real purpose.

Up 58 Down 15

lie detector on Oct 29, 2020 at 11:38 am

Why are there so many liars and frauds out there who want all of the benefits of economic activity without actually doing it themselves or allowing for it to happen? Restoration is extremely effective and achievable in areas that are far more worse off than anywhere in the Yukon.

https://ijc.org/en/wetland-restoration-projects-urban-great-lakes-help-remediate-areas-concern
"likened it to getting 50 years-worth of wetland loss reclaimed in one year."

https://windsorstar.com/news/local-news/reclamation-of-detroits-riverfront-an-ecological-and-economic-miracle
“If we can do it here, with one of the most industrialized waterfronts in the largest U.S. city to ever go bankrupt, it can be done anywhere.”

Enough of constantly trying to shut everything down and demonize natural resource development that provides us all with the comforts we enjoy.
The online published fear mongering and propaganda wouldn't be possible without mining, energy and innovation thanks to free speech & free markets. Instead there is a cult following of leftist progressive totalitarian ideologies wanting to take humanity backwards while dividing and destroying our society.

Up 67 Down 9

Minority Miner on Oct 29, 2020 at 10:25 am

Funny, the guys from the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in who've I've worked with on placer crews seemed quite happy to work 4 on 1 off and be able to provide for their family without any talk of negative impact on their way of life or "exploitation" of their land.

Perhaps Chief Joseph should speak with her people who are employed in the mining sector to get a real outlook on things? There are literally tons of hoops one needs to jump through and rightfully so, from water license to remediation of mined area. C'mon you make it sound like all doom and gloom, this isn't the days of the dredges where everything was ripped up and left without any thought.

Up 59 Down 15

Greiko on Oct 29, 2020 at 9:24 am

“Spiritual and cultural connection to the land” is that akin to having a cell phone from mined ore?

Up 64 Down 9

BnR on Oct 29, 2020 at 9:02 am

While I support protection of wilderness (such as the Peel River watershed), placer mining has always been a key part of our economy. Big mines come and go, but the placer industry keeps plugging along providing meaningful employment in many of our communities. Yes, mining does have an impact, you can't get around that, but it can be mitigated. I suppose there are some who want to shut down mining altogether and just keep waiting for Federal cash to keep us going. There has to be a balance in there somewhere.
I support our Yukon placer industry.

Up 45 Down 8

Bert Middleton on Oct 29, 2020 at 7:37 am

"The people of that land have let this go WAY too far, and I don't even know why they would say they 'support mining'. Really what has mining ever done for them?"

*Typed on my computer which would not exist without the necessary raw materials*

Up 63 Down 17

Yoduh on Oct 28, 2020 at 6:18 pm

I call bulls...!
During the 1930’s,1940’s and 1950’s at least a dozen dredges tore up the Klondike region.
Hunker Creek, Bonanza and all the creeks with dredges on the other ones, including the Klondike river valley were ripped up without the environmental rules and regulations that are in place today.
The water was all dark brown that flowed into the Klondike river and the Yukon River. The fish and wild life survived and thrived under a much harder impact than we see today, and now we have rules and regulations that must be followed.

Look at the old pictures of the hills, and valleys that were clear cut of every tree, to build sluice boxes and cabins for the early miners, and now go for a drive up those creeks and see a jungle of new growth that looks like no one was was ever there.
Miners and their families provide an invaluable source of revenue for Dawson City and its people. To think that the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in listen to a US funded rabble like CPAWS, instead of supporting their neighbours, and the mining community of The Klondike makes me sick, and ashamed of being a Yukoner.

Up 61 Down 9

Dave on Oct 28, 2020 at 5:28 pm

Ok something is fishy here. The same type of placer mining was done in many other places, one example of which is the Dominion Creek valley which is along the way to the Indian River valley. The miners who closed out their mines there did reclamation work and the areas they mined are now natural moose pastures and look as good as they did beforehand. Why is it somehow impossible for the same reclamation to happen in the Indian River valley? Contour the land and the willows, trees and animals return, nature takes over again and things get overgrown before you know it. I’m not buying the reclamation is impossible bit because we’ve seen reclamation successfully happen on the creeks around Dawson .

Up 20 Down 54

Nathan Living on Oct 28, 2020 at 5:22 pm

This is happening all over the Yukon due to mining as well as people with off road vehicles who just do their own thing without any regard for wetlands and the plants and which depend upon them.

We have to listen to First Nations and environmental groups and stop this senseless destruction in remote areas as well as in the city of Whitehorse.
Mining has to be responsible and people who buy toys should not have a right to be tear up wetlands and habitat that is important to wildlife and people.

Up 43 Down 6

JC on Oct 28, 2020 at 5:00 pm

Well, looks like the trouble shooting lawyers are looking for another pay cheque from the tax payers.

Up 72 Down 38

Wilf Carter on Oct 28, 2020 at 3:57 pm

Mining in Europe for 1,000's of years and history has shown it has improved wetland and the habitat is better if done right.

Up 38 Down 95

about time you fought back on Oct 28, 2020 at 3:18 pm

I support the Trondek Gwich'in on this 100%!

ENOUGH! of the blatant greed and destruction. Take your 15 cents an ounce 'royalty payments' and get the hell out of the Yukon. There is no need for this gold, it's all hoarding and greed. I cannot believe we have let this go on for over a hundred years!

If there were a rally, a protest, people needed to sign petitions or block roads, you know what? I think I would show up. Sooner or later there's something that just disgusts you so much, like ripping apart riparian zones to play some stupid game of selfish greed, that you really want to get up and do something about it.

The people of that land have let this go WAY too far, and I don't even know why they would say they 'support mining'. Really what has mining ever done for them? Destroyed salmon stocks in the Klondike River, destroyed the most valuable ecosystems, anything else?

Up 37 Down 86

Patti Eyre on Oct 28, 2020 at 3:16 pm

Once wetlands are mined, they can never be reclaimed, let’s be clear about that.

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