Proposed changes to the territory’s Quartz Mining Act risk eroding the Yukon’s free entry staking system, says the Yukon Chamber of Mines.
In the Yukon, anyone can stake a claim on Crown land so long as it’s not covered under any sort of moratorium or other type of protection.
“Anybody can go out into the woods, be a mushroom picker and make the next big discovery of the motherlode,” said Samson Hartland, the executive director of the Yukon Chamber of Mines.
Under the proposed changes the Yukon government would have the option to give First Nations or their entities exclusive rights for prospecting and mining.
The Yukon government says the proposed changes are only for land currently covered under an interim ban and are designed to promote reconciliation and create new opportunities for economic development.
Hartland said the chamber supports reconciliation but has problems with both the changes themselves and the way the industry is being consulted.
“I have to be clear that First Nations should have the ability to develop mineral resources in their traditional territory but doing it (with) exclusivity is the problem.”
Hartland said what the government appears to be proposing could erode the current system.
“That would be at the expense of a whole segment of our industry. The segment of our industry that does those discoveries, the prospectors, who number in the hundreds would stand to potentially lose such a system being structured like that.”
Officials with the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources deny the proposed amendments would erode anything.
Briar Young, director of the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources’s strategic alliances branch said the proposed changes would enable “through the right mixture of First Nations request (and) industry partnership,” the government to allow access to land that would otherwise be unavailable.
“It’s not a blanket amendment that would say ‘First Nations, only you have first rights and first access to all this land.’”
Young said the existing free entry system will continue to apply.
“Public lands that are available for staking will still be available for staking. This is really targeting those limited opportunities right now that are out there.”
Currently about half of the territory is covered under some sort of ban or moratorium on new staking. That includes permanent staking bans like in Kluane National Park, as well as ones that are meant to be temporary, such as the moratorium in place in the Ross River and Kaska areas.
Young said the government isn’t considering interim protected land that is currently part of legal proceedings like the Kaska territory or the Peel River Watershed.
“Those are not the areas that this is really looking at. This is looking at advancing reconciliation on specific parcels that have been set aside as a result of land claims or the process leading up to land claims and we haven’t managed to get there,” he said.
Hartland said the chamber objects to the way the Yukon government is handling consultation on the proposed changes.
Yukoners and industry representatives have until Aug. 21 to comment on the general idea of what the government wants to do but no actual draft of the proposed amendments is being provided.
“They want to know if this is a good idea but will not draft up the language, at least as far as we’ve been told, until it’s time to make a decision on it,” Hartland said.
If the chamber had a draft, it could get policy analysis done, he said, to be able to provide government with a more detailed opinion. EMR spokesperson Sue Thomas said there is no draft amendment to provide because the government is only in the public consultation process.
The idea is to get public input that can be taken into consideration when the legislation is drafted, she said.
After that “further consultation could take place” she said. But Young wouldn’t commit to extra consultation.
He said a “what we heard” document should be ready by September.
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