The past year that I have spent working as the lands manager and YESAA implementation worker for Liard First Nation has been challenging and exciting.
I have spent much of my time attempting to come to terms with the implications of a number of major court cases and victories for First Nations’ rights to their land and have been learning about a new regulation process for low level mineral activities.
One of the other major changes that I have been involved with has been changes to the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act that have been put forth by the federal government.
I don’t think that it is any presumption to assume the myriad of changes is proposed to ease and speed up our environmental assessment process to encourage further resource development. However, having much more experience now about all of the challenges that our remote communities experience in facilitating adequate consultation, I have huge concerns about what the implications of these changes could mean.
The First Nations with signed land claim agreements are standing unified against this in a way I doubt the territory has seen since negotiations for the Umbrella Final Agreement was signed. I feel that for First Nations such as Liard that were never signatory to the UFA, the implications will be even further reaching.
Liard First Nation sits on a hugely wealthy traditional territory, with a couple of operating mines, potential for forestry and a large and relatively accessible natural gas basin. So far, however, benefits from these resources have not reached the community level, which is steeped in poverty and classic “fourth world” conditions pertaining to access to water, food and adequate housing that most Canadians take for granted. Liard First Nation is the perfect Yukon example of how Canada as a nation has failed to give equal opportunity to all of its citizens.
The issues are myriad, complex and interwoven. There are no easy or obvious solutions. However, it is time for us to stop ramming exploitation of natural resources as the only possible future for communities such as this. Hunting and the traditional lifestyle is one of the only means to keep remote community citizens healthy mentally, emotionally, spiritually and physically. If development is to occur, it must happen with careful planning with a view on both climate change and the future of the children of that local community.