As the Kontaneelee gas play moves on to its next stage of so-called consultation, Liard First Nation has moved into third party management. Assessment activities regarding consultation have been deemed non-essential services by Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, and so the single position that Liard First Nation maintained to comment on proposals for development and facilitate community-level consultation on projects has been indefinitely suspended.
Resource development is widely accepted as a means for communities to rise above abject poverty. The Yukon Environment and Socio-Economic Assessment Act was put in place to facilitate the participation of Yukon Indian persons in the economic development of the territory.
Liard First Nation is one of the most poverty-stricken communities in the territory and yet lies on some of the wealthiest land, with the potential for forestry, mining and natural gas exploration. Elders in the community want to see hope for future prosperity for the younger generation, but they recognize the need for healing to happen congruently. They want to be included in responsible projects that will uphold their values for environmental protection.
The Kontaneelee project, Selwyn mine and the Yukon government’s potential reconciliation agreement that was announced before Christmas hold a lot of promise in turning the tides for this community. However, in order for that to occur, the community needs to be included and grown along with these projects.
Environmental and socio-economic concerns about these projects are significant. For instance, in the gas fields of North Dakota, the explosion in wages and work opportunities have been matched by an increase in violence, especially against women. With Canada’s epidemic-level issue with missing and murdered aboriginal women, it leaves little doubt to me who will be the real victims of the potential explosion in resource development in Watson Lake.
Members in the community have suffered greatly with the changeover in administration. Some households are forced to rely on social assistance when they never had to before, due to a breadwinner or two being laid off from the band, which is a large employer of this small aboriginal community. Changes in administrative practice are absolutely needed to address the shortfalls. However, it has yet to be acknowledged how the legacy of residential schools and forced economic assimilation practices have led to this situation, not only in this First Nation community, but countless across the country.
Canada’s wealth has been acquired through the theft of resources from native lands, and built on the poverty of a disenfranchised population. In order for us to move towards a country of true equal opportunity and shared wealth, Liard First Nation desperately needs policies that support responsible economic development on their unceded aboriginal territory.