Letter to the Editor

Fentie fails First Nations and territory Open letter to Premier Dennis Fentie: I feel compelled to respond publicly to your recent public letter…

Fentie fails First Nations and territory

Open letter to Premier Dennis Fentie:

I feel compelled to respond publicly to your recent public letter dated August 30. You have made several statements regarding your Yukon Party government’s position on relations with First Nations.

There are many disturbing and potentially dangerous consequences that could result from your statements.

In your letter to me, you assert that the First Nation of Na-Cho Nyak Dun was claiming that its consent was required on all proposed activities on public land within its traditional territory.

You have ascribed to various First Nations the demand to have a veto over the disposition of public lands that fall within their respective traditional territories.

You also assert that as the leader of the Yukon Liberal Party I support a First Nations veto.

I have reviewed many news releases and public statements from Yukon First Nations and never have I seen any reference to ‘consent’ or to ‘veto.’

I spoke directly with chief Simon Mervyn of the Na-Cho Nyak Dun and he assured me that neither term was ever used or implied.

What various chiefs have told me is that they expect to have meaningful discussions regarding land matters that fall within their traditional territories, that their concerns must be taken seriously and where possible, be accommodated.

That is not anywhere close to demanding a veto. You are attributing comments to others that simply are not true.

In your zeal to further stoke the fires of discontent, you also took it upon yourself to state a position on behalf of the Yukon Liberal Party saying that I and my party supported a veto for First Nations.

Let me be very clear on this point, Premier Fentie, veto is not, has not and will not ever be my position or the position of the Liberal Party as long as I am its leader. I am the spokesperson for my party, not you, and I ask you to respect that.

Your letter referred to the court-ordered process to address the remediation and reclamation of the United Keno Hill mines, and suggested that I did not recognize that court order.

That is not the case. The court made a determination regarding the process for remediation and reclamation of the former mine, which may also include its reopening as an operating mine in the future.

I have stated that the order does not negate the Yukon government’s obligation under the self-governing and final agreements with the First Nation of Na-Cho Nyak Dun to consult meaningfully on activities within the First Nation’s traditional territory that may impact on its traditional rights and lifestyle.

The key words, as reinforced in chief Justice Ron Veale’s recent decision in the case of the Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation, are “meaningful consultations.”

There is no suggestion of the requirement for a First Nation’s consent or any veto, explicit or implied.

I am equally concerned about your increasingly hostile attitude toward the law, and in particular, the Yukon Supreme Court.

If there is one single fact that separates a truly democratic society from all other forms of government, it is its laws, the respect for those laws and an independent judiciary.

It is everyone’s right to disagree with a court ruling but to go further than that is wrong, especially for a premier.

There is a thing called ‘due process’ in this country. Those who feel a decision is wrong can appeal it but they do not have the right to try and cast aspersions upon the court.

This is especially applicable to a premier.

Veale’s decision was very clear. You should not attempt to put your ‘spin’ on it when speaking in your capacity as premier of the Yukon.

The greatest impact of your increasingly arrogant tone is on the Yukon itself.

Thirty years ago, growth and development in this territory were constrained by the uncertainty around First Nations’ land rights.

It has taken many years and much hard work to achieve the signing of the Umbrella Final Agreement and 11 final agreements with various First Nations.

This has been the result of countless thousands of hours of negotiations. Good faith has been extended on all sides. Your cavalier attitude towards First Nations relations under the guise of public governance endangers the good work done by your predecessors of all political stripes.

Your current approach will not in any way assist in moving Yukon forward as an inclusive, healthy and prosperous society for all.

I am sure you must be aware that prospective business investors will have serious second thoughts about investing here if they believe they will be taken to court and challenged over their use of the land.

Alexco Resources was quite clear in its press release that it did not take issue with the First Nation of Na-Cho Nyak Dun. Alexco respectfully suggested to you that your government put a “framework” in place to negotiate with all the parties involved.

That company saw its value plummet overnight because of your inability to live up to the spirit of the agreements you and former premiers signed. Other businesses will not want to go down that road.

I draw your attention to the statement you made on February 17, 2003, where you state, “The Yukon government is committed to working with all Yukon First Nations on a government-to-government basis to make them full partners in the life of the territory.”

Once again, I urge you to take a step back from your recent inflammatory approach in dealing with First Nations and return to a respectful government-to-government approach before any more harm is done.

Arthur Mitchell, Yukon Liberal Party leader, Leader of the Official Opposition