Open letter to Premier Darrell Pasloski:
On behalf of the Council of Yukon First Nations and its members, I express our profound disappointment with the action of Yukon government to subvert the land use planning process established in the Yukon First Nation final agreements, reject the final plan recommended by the Peel Watershed Planning Commission and impose a new plan that differs dramatically from the final recommended plan.
This final recommended plan has been viewed generally by the public as a balanced approach amongst the various interests within the Peel watershed. In fact, the Yukon First Nations advised last week that they adopted the final recommended plan in relation to their parcels of settlement land within the Peel watershed.
Yukon government’s decision to impose a new plan is contrary to the overwhelming public support expressed for adoption of the final recommended plan during the final round of public consultation facilitated by Yukon government.
The Yukon First Nations want to establish a constructive governmental relationship with the Yukon government in order to enhance governance for Yukoners and build a strong economy in the Yukon.
The CYFN members are implementing their respective Yukon First Nation Final and Self-Government Agreements. They supported the devolution of lands and resources in the Yukon Territory on the understanding that the Yukon First Nations and Yukon government would be able to work together to manage and administer those matters and develop successor resource development legislation to replace the outdated mirror legislation.
First Nations have invested their monies in the Yukon Territory and undertaken economic development initiatives, including the development of partnerships with various proponents to support mining activities within their respective traditional territories.
In the end, we want to establish effective and efficient processes to manage the lands and resources of our traditional territories based on the values and perspectives of all Yukoners. We want to support sound economic development projects that bring long-term benefits to our communities, citizens and businesses without compromising our environment.
Unfortunately, the CYFN and its members have been mired in an increasingly adversarial discourse with Yukon government. This discourse, which has been defined by confrontation and litigation, has been tiresome and frustrating and only serving to alienate Yukon First Nations and Yukon government.
It appears that Yukon government’s decision to impose a new plan for the Peel watershed is consistent with this discourse.
At this point, the CYFN has deep concerns about the approach of the Yukon government with respect to the Peel watershed and we support the efforts of our members to commence legal action to protect their interests – and the interests of the vast majority of Yukoners – in the Peel watershed and maintain the integrity of the Yukon First Nation final agreements.
The CYFN cannot support the decisions of Yukon government when those decisions are made contrary to process established in the Yukon First Nation final agreements. These constitutional documents belong to all Yukoners.
They are blueprints for cooperation and collaboration between Yukon First Nations and Yukon government and amongst all Yukoners. They cannot be abandoned or disregarded for reasons of political expediency. Yukoners have invested heavily in the implementation of the Yukon First Nation Final and Self-Government Agreements and, in particular, the public has committed extensive time and resources into the development and review of the Peel Watershed Planning Commission’s final recommended plan. Yukon government’s high-handed and cavalier rejection of that plan serves to dismiss that public investment in both the land claim and self-government agreements and the land use planning process.
Moreover, the CYFN cannot support decisions that serve to prejudice the interests of the future generations of our children and other Yukoners. In our view, Yukon government’s new plan that permits the construction of new roads within the Peel watershed and opens up about 70 per cent of the Peel watershed to mineral exploration is breaching our duty to future generations to protect this pristine area. This is highly irresponsible and short-sighted.
In closing, the purpose of land use planning under the Yukon First Nation final agreements is to provide governments and users certainty about the sorts of activities permitted and not permitted in an area. In this case, the new plan imposed by the Yukon government in the Peel watershed only serves to undermine the certainty provided by the Yukon First Nation final agreements. In turn, this will raise concerns from industry and others about the viability of investing in the Yukon Territory.
The CYFN urges the Yukon government to set aside its new plan and work with the Yukon First Nations in accordance with the Yukon First Nation final agreements. As a public government, Yukon has a trust-like duty to manage the lands and resources in the Yukon Territory in the best interests of the electorate – not industry or special interest groups.
We urge Yukon government to act accordingly. We remain prepared to work with you to carry out that duty.
Ruth Massie is grand chief of the Council of Yukon First Nations.