The campaign to protect the Peel, like so many campaigns for wilderness protection, has been a long and arduous one, and we aren’t done yet!
From my perch along-side my co-panelists at the Beringia Centre during Tuesday’s What’s Next for the Peel event, I felt nothing but gratitude for the hundreds of people who made it a priority to attend, both in person and via the livestream; individuals who after all these years are still so wholeheartedly engaged in this issue and without whom the Peel would have no chance of being preserved.
The three First Nations and two conservation groups involved knew it was a busy time of year to try to schedule a non-holiday event. But we felt we owed it to our supporters, and to the public in general, to explain the reasoning behind the decision to file for leave to appeal to take the Peel case to Canada’s highest court.
The focus was primarily on the legal intricacies of the issue, as those elements are what the majority find most confusing. In particular, the public wanted to clearly understand how moving forward to the Supreme Court of Canada would help both the outcome for the Peel watershed and the future of land use planning for the territory as a whole.
The public has become jaded from a lack of trust in the territory’s land use planning processes; the clarity that a Supreme Court of Canada decision could provide would do much to repair this state of affairs and re-energize the public’s involvement in these important planning exercises moving forward. There is no guarantee of course that the Supreme Court of Canada will choose to hear our request, but the old adage of “nothing ventured, nothing gained” has been a guiding force. As Chief Roberta Joseph stated so aptly, “we do not want to take this matter to court, but we feel we have no choice.”
In the midst of all these legal realities, however, let’s not lose touch with the land itself. Remember it is the gifts that this suite of wetlands, rivers, mountains and lowlands offers us that has captured the hearts and minds of so many. You can speak to these gifts in terms of their sheer beauty and magnificence; in terms of the generations of caribou, falcon, grayling and host of other life forms it has sustained through the millennia; or in terms of the mesmerizing stories that have been passed down through generations of First Nations people who have spent their lives in this watershed, sustained by its pure waters and unsoiled lands.
To me the Peel is about the essence of all wild places, and the impact wildness has on our souls. If we leave places like the Peel alone, they will continue to nurture and sustain those wild unfettered places within ourselves.
It is up to those of us who have been touched by wild nature, and that understand how essential it is to our own well being, to act as its voice. In so doing we speak for those who cannot, defending their right to exist. And we speak for that part of ourselves that is only truly at home in a land that is left as it was originally intended to be.
Executive director, CPAWS-Yukon