Land scandals and Archie Lang seem to be synonymous these days.
First, exceeding his authority, he promised to grant a research forest to the Yukon Agricultural Association on the Mayo Road.
When exposed, the deal collapsed.
Later, he started chopping down boreal forest on Crown land abutting his Whitehorse-area home without a permit.
Now, he’s smack-dab in the middle of a land controversy with the Ta’an Kwach’an Council in the Shallow Bay area.
In 2004, Len Walchuk and Karla DesRosiers asked to have a grazing lease divided into three agricultural parcels, which would add 132 hectares to their Laberge Ranch and Outfitters Ltd.
Once the process stalled, they appealed to Lang, as minister, for help.
And, according to Ta’an acting chief Ruth Massie, documents passed within the agriculture branch suggested “upper management” directed the application be “moved forward.”
This is puzzling.
The land is important to the Ta’an Kwach’an Council, which has traditionally harvested fish and waterfowl there.
The First Nation wanted the land as part of its final land claim agreement, but the existing public grazing lease, held by the DesRosiers family, prevented it.
So, in 1988, the federal and territorial governments promised the Ta’an first right of refusal on the area once the existing grazing leases expired.
“At land claim talks held on Friday, June 17, 1988, at the Kishwoot Hall, we spoke with the negotiators regarding the expiry of the above-listed grazing leases and our intention to own these properties,” wrote Glenn Grady, chair of the then-Ta’an Dun Council, in a letter dated July 7, 1988, that was obtained by The News.
“We would like to put you on notice that if any of the leases become open, we are to be given first option in obtaining them, as was discussed with federal negotiator Mike Whittington, YTG negotiator Barry Stuart and the Kwanlin Dun.”
In 1996, the Yukon government confirmed its pledge to the First Nation that the grazing lease would be preserved until 2019.
And, on April 6, 2004, a memo from the Yukon’s executive council office affirmed that promise.
“Public access until December 31, 2019, was communicated to the Ta’an in 1996, and with that communication, Ta’an Kwach’an Council reduced their land selections in the area and agreed to third-party interests on their identified land set aside,” wrote Lynn Black, a policy analyst with the land claims and implementation secretariat, in the April 2004 memo.
If the parcel is no longer needed for grazing, it should be withdrawn from the agriculture program, suggested Black.
It went through the land application review committee process, which rejected the DesRosiers/Walchuk agricultural proposal.
Yet, despite that public committee’s determination the land should not be privatized and against advice from the government’s land claims experts, the waterfront parcel is to be transferred to the farmers.
In August, about two months after Walchuk and DesRosiers appealed to Lang in writing, Greg Komaromi, Lang’s assistant deputy minister of Energy, Mines and Resources, personally overturned the land application review committee’s decision.
The Ta’an challenge the way that was done.
They are threatening legal action to stop the privatization of the chunk of land.
“It appears there was political interference in the approval” of the Walchuk/DesRosiers application, wrote Massie in a detailed four-page letter that, in tone and detail, seemed drafted with the assistance of a lawyer.
“Prior to exhausting the LARC process, the applicant requested, by way of a letter dated June 1, 2005, that the minister look into the difficulty that their applications were experiencing and suggested a meeting with the minister.
“It is unclear what action, if any, the minister took …”
But an agriculture branch official noted in a July 22 document that “officials are under direction from upper management” to move the application forward, added Massie.
“In our view, it appears that the government was prepared to disregard due process, breach the land disposition rules, overlook its lawful obligations and marginalize the concerns of the Ta’an Kwach’an Council and others in order to fast track the application.
“Of course there was no need to rush (the application) since the applicant’s grazing lease … does not expire until 2019.
“In any event, we question whether or not this area will ultimately be used for agricultural purposes since these lands do not qualify as arable soils for agriculture purposes according to the Yukon government’s soils grading map.”
The whole affair has also further damaged the Yukon government’s pledge to work co-operatively with First Nations.
“You are not willing to listen to our concerns,” wrote Massie. “You are certainly not working with us.”
To date, Yukon officials have not responded to a September letter from Massie proposing a collaborative process to make decisions about land and resource development in the First Nation’s traditional territory.
“It appears that the priority for your government is to expedite the ‘land grabs’ initiated by its friends and supporters rather than working with us,” she concluded.
The government operates under a set of rules and processes that are, by nature, bureaucratic and, sometimes, slow.
But they are there for a reason — to make the process transparent and fair so that conflicts, such as these, are avoided.
Throughout his stint as minister, Lang has demonstrated a cavalier disregard for the rules — a seeming contempt of the processes and laws he’s sworn to respect.
A couple of times he’s been caught, and reigned in.
You’d think, by now, he’d have learned his lone-gunman approach doesn’t work.
It doesn’t speed things up.
It doesn’t improve certainty, or make for good business.
Just ask Walchuk and DesRosiers, the farmers who are now caught up in an epic turf war between two governments, neither of which has much respect for the other. (RM).