Premier and chiefs discuss mining spat

The Yukon government and Yukon First Nations are trying to strike a deal over Class 1 mining activity in the territory.

The Yukon government and Yukon First Nations are trying to strike a deal over Class 1 mining activity in the territory.

That’s what Premier Darrell Pasloski and Grand Chief Ruth Massie announced yesterday, after the first Yukon Forum in more than two years.

Media were excluded from the meetings. Instead, the premier and grand chief made a brief appearance to reporters in a cramped room at the High Country Inn Tuesday afternoon.

By July 1, “significant” areas of the territory will be designated as Class 1 notification areas, meaning First Nations would be told of “low level” mining exploration that doesn’t require an environmental assessment happening on their land, the leaders said.

The government and the CYFN will eventually sign a memorandum of understanding to that effect, though it may take some time agree on just how to do that.

The premier wouldn’t say what “significant” means. But the territory has already agreed to require notification for Class 1 work within the territory of the Ross River First Nation, after the First Nation successfully sued the government over the matter.

The Yukon government has also offered similar protections to parts of the Peel watershed.

The Liberals’ Sandy Silver recently suggested in the legislature that Class 1 work would similarly soon be restricted in the land of the Liard First Nation and White River First Nation, both of whom lack final agreements, like Ross River.

Chiefs are not united on how to implement the plan.

“It’s not easy getting 16 different levels of government in the territory to agree,” Massie said. “I think that our leaders are very pleased with what has come of this meeting. It is the beginning of all of our discussions.”

“The approach we agree on respects First Nation treaty rights and are a workable solution for the mining sector,” Pasloski said.

But there is no actual deal yet. “We’re not saying there was an agreement,” said cabinet spokeswoman Elaine Schiman on Wednesday morning. “There was really good discussion and a draft MOU that was developed,” she said.

“When we have that MOU signed that’s when we’ll really be able to say in a solid way that we are proceeding,” she said.

The territory and First Nations will next set up an advisory committee to help guide the MOU process. But exactly how to do that will apparently also require more discussion.

“We agreed how we’re going to move forward towards an agreement,” Schiman said.

Ultimately the goal is that Class 1 notification would be required for all Yukon public lands, she said.

According to the Cooperation in Governance Act, Yukon Forums are an opportunity for government and First Nations to “discuss issues of common concern and identify opportunities and common priorities for co-operative action.” There are supposed to be four of them each year, unless more or fewer are agreed upon.

But this week’s was only the second forum to be held since Premier Darrell Pasloski’s Yukon Party government came to power in the fall of 2011.

Chiefs gathered in Whitehorse in December of 2012 under the expectation that a Yukon Forum would take place, but none did.

At Tuesday’s press conference neither the premier nor the grand chief would say why it took so long for this forum to be scheduled.

Contact Jesse Winter at

jessew@yukon-news.com

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