I have a wise old friend who lives up north. A Yukon First Nation-cowboy, his name is Jimmy Johnny, and he’s an enigma within an enigma. He’s from the Nacho Nyak Dun First Nation, and native to the Peel Watershed region.
It’s a place of caribou, moose and cranberries, and more berries… and great winding rivers, and winds, blustery winters, and beautiful summers. It’s also a place of rich mineral deposits and mining interests, exploration, tourism, and First Nation traditions. And, Jimmy is also “a part of it.”
I asked Jimmy how he refers to the Peel region in his traditional language. He said some people call it: “Seh din’itro tegg’eh,” which translates to “Black Sand Rivers” and they call it this, he said, because the blowing wind over snow and ice makes the rivers look black.
As a partially First Nation person myself, I feel comfortable in saying that First Nation people believe strongly: We are not separate from the land; we are a part of it.
The land where we come from teaches us about who we are. I am from the south, from a place that is “almost an island.” When my father was a small child, the government expropriated our land and turned it into a park. Despite this, it’s still possible for our family to return to enjoy the rich biodiversity and keep our relationship with the land alive. And the park has enabled others to also freely visit, learn from the land, and subsequently learn from our culture.
If my native land had been staked by multinational corporations for mining, it would have destroyed this place and broken my heart. For, I too am “a part of it.” And, it is time we learned that we are all “a part of it.”
Yes, I like my car, and the gas that runs it, and most things mined. It’s a reality that mines are a necessary part of our culture today. But we must consider the future carefully.
I hope, during this final round of consultations, the Yukon government will listen to the people who are “a part of it,” the people who participated in the six-year public-consultation process, and the people that support the final recommended Peel watershed plan.
This plan doesn’t say “No” to mining in the Peel. This plan says “No” to mining in 55 per cent of the Peel watershed. It says “Yes” to mining in 20 per cent, and “interim protection” in another 25 per cent.
It seems to me the plan has found a balance – meeting cross-sector interests, while carefully supporting the needs of this massive and delicate ecosystem.
Jimmy Johnny’s culture is that land. I feel fortunate to know such an enchanting sort as him, and I have the “Black Sand Rivers” to thank for that.
I hope his children’s children will be able to grow wise, as Jimmy has, and will continue to intimately know and share their culture, just as I am able. But only by protecting the land will this be possible for future generations.
Marsh Lake, Yukon