I’m 21 years old, and I’ve been fortunate to spend my whole life in the Yukon. I grew up paddling and trekking through unspoiled landscapes. I’ve cupped my hands and drank water straight from streams, and I’ve known that that water has not been poisoned by industrial developments upstream.
I realize that I’ve taken the Yukon for granted. There are too few places in the world that have been spared from the claws of human development. There are too few places where grizzlies still roam wild and where rivers run clean. The Peel River watershed is one of those places, and we cannot afford to sacrifice the eternal value of our wilderness for short-term economic gain.
Premier Darrell Pasloski or Resources Minister Brad Cathers would argue that their plans, with its “wilderness river corridors” and “restricted use wilderness areas,” would somehow allow mining development to happen with minimum environmental damage. But as First Nation people know, as paddlers and hikers know, as hunters and trappers know: major industrial development cannot coexist with a healthy Peel watershed.
Roads would scar the landscapes, air traffic would disturb wildlife, and mineral extraction, possibly even coal or uranium mining, would poison the water.
The Yukon government under Pasloski and Cathers has turned its back on six years of public consultations that made up the Peel commission’s final recommended plan. The plan has overwhelming public support, and most importantly the plan has been endorsed by the First Nations.
The “Pasloski plans” would give blatant preference to mining companies, while slapping in the face those of us who have spent the last six years participating in the land-use planning process, with the apparently far-fetched notion that the Yukon government would respect our views.
As I sit down to write this letter I realize that there may be no point. So far the Pasloski government has given no respect to the Yukon public’s feelings on the Peel. So far our leaders have addressed our concerns with the same set of recycled talking points.
But I’m addressing this letter to the Yukon government, clinging to some thread of faith in our democratic system, that somehow the Yukon government will at last respect our voices. There are just a few days left before the closure of the public consultation period, and I urge you all to join me in writing.
However, democracy must not end at the mail box. If this spring the Yukon government comes out with a final decision contrary to our will, then we must resolutely come together. We must stand up to the Yukon government and we must stand in solidarity with the First Nations, who have more at stake than anyone else.
The Peel watershed is far too valuable to lose to development, and we must do all in our power to fight for its protection.