The Supreme Court of Canada’s recent decision to deny the Yukon government’s appeal of the Ross River Dena case provides an opportunity to engage in a long overdue discussion about the rules governing mineral staking in Yukon.
The current free-entry staking system came in to play in North America in the 19th century as a means of opening up the West and North for development. At the time little thought was given to the idea that there might be other uses, or owners, of what was seen as wilderness. At the time slavery was legal, women could not vote, and treaties with aboriginal people in B.C. and Yukon were nowhere on the radar.
In 2013, society has recognized that there are many competing uses for land. The idea that access to lands for mineral staking trumps aboriginal rights as well as all other use – residential, agricultural, recreational, tourism, wilderness outfitting to name a few – belongs to a bygone era.
There are many recent examples where claims staked according to the current law creates conflict with ordinary citizens’ peaceful use and enjoyment of their property. Whether it is their country residential dwellings in Spruce Hill, or the ski trails at Mount McIntyre or homesteads in rural Yukon, the impact of the activities allowed under the Quartz Mining Act before any environmental assessment is triggered can be devastating. Under the current free entry staking system, people’s property can be staked without their permission right up to their homes.
This is why the Yukon NDP continues to call upon the government to engage Yukoners on how to bring the staking system for mineral claims into the 21st century. Modernization would ensure mineral exploration occurs in a manner consistent with modern views of land ownership and conservation as well as economic, recreational, cultural, and heritage land values.
Establishing clear rules to address conflicting interests would bring a level of certainty that would benefit the mining industry. Having sought and incorporated the views of all Yukoners including First Nation governments, municipalities, economic sectors such as tourism, mining, agriculture and citizens would provide social licence necessary for Yukon’s mining industry to thrive for decades to come.
While the Supreme Court confirmed that modernizing our mineral staking system is needed to honour our relationship with First Nations, it is also a smart economic decision. A modern staking system that minimizes conflicts and provides certainty would create a sustainable business environment for mining in the Yukon.
It is time for the Yukon government to stop wasting taxpayers’ money on costly court actions that drain the financial resources and goodwill of all involved. It is time to get on with consulting with Yukon First Nations governments and all Yukon people to update the Quartz Mining Act to reflect the fact that mining is one of many appropriate uses for Yukon lands.
Leader, Yukon NDP
MLA for Whitehorse Centre