What happened to the territory’s tolerance?

I am distressed by the divisions I see in our territory, large in land mass but minuscule in population. We have environmentalists upset with those who would mine or drill, and the current leadership of the Yukon government locking horns with Fi

COMMENTARY

by Alan Fry

I am distressed by the divisions I see in our territory, large in land mass but minuscule in population.

We have environmentalists upset with those who would mine or drill, and the current leadership of the Yukon government locking horns with First Nations.

Divisions take shape as to how we will generate the next supply of electric power and who will pay for it.

The scene is reminiscent of those B-rated westerns of the forties and fifties. There are good guys and bad guys. The good guys always win in the end.

In our small community, who is the good guy and who is the bad guy is mainly dependent on the already committed perspective of the viewer.

Who can win in the end is nobody if we all insist we are right, and everybody if we listen to each other and make sensible compromises based on best available facts, not self-interest or political ideology.

I once had a significant conversation with a young, intelligent woman committed to the interests of our territory. It was not long after the closure of the mine at Faro and around the time we were beginning to understand the huge downstream environmental damage from acid mine drainage.

She said to me that we should prohibit mining in our territory altogether.

I asked her, if that was right for us to do, should we not press for mining to be prohibited everywhere around the world?

She was thoughtful and hesitant in reply but then said yes, we should.

Then I explained that we would all be reduced to living in brush wickiups, skin tents and igloos with no cars, no trains, no hospitals, no schools, no warm houses with oil furnaces and etc.

She thought again for a while then said, I see.

This miraculous planet we live on, perhaps unique in all the universe, can be likened, roughly, to a huge onion consisting of layers upon layers from the inside to the outside.

We live on the outside layer, in the atmosphere that surrounds it and by the oceans and fresh water bodies it contains.

Here life has found root and developed, from mice to elephants, from the smallest grasses to the tallest trees. It is beyond me to describe, but there it is and our species, Homo Sapiens, came into being with all the rest.

I was out in South Africa once and stopped by a place which claimed to be the birthplace of mankind. There was nothing remarkable about it, but we had to start somewhere. The climate seemed agreeable. I tried to feel an affinity but the millions of years between then and now eroded the attempt.

Doubtless we started as hunting and gathering primates, much like our close relatives.

But then one day, some enterprising young chap discovered that he could make a cutting edge out of a piece of flint by impacting it in a very special way with another rock.

An industry was born. Knapping, it was called, and soon everywhere flint could be found there was a knapper banging out cutting edges, arrow heads and spearheads.

So there he was: the first developer and founder of the stone age.

These entrepreneurial chaps came thick and fast after that. Soon came the bronze age, then the iron age, then the industrial revolution. We no sooner had the steam engine then some bloke discovered oil and another wit devised the internal combustion engine (my father always spoke of it as the infernal combustion engine) and there was no stopping us.

The huge factor in all this: we no longer live only on the outer layer of the onion. We dig and drill deep into it to supply the huge demands for energy and minerals we consume in vast amounts every day.

And we pollute the atmosphere, essential to supporting life for every living creature.

I don’t know where we go from here but we must stop finger pointing. Whether we see the diggers and drillers as good guys or bad guys, we need them. We need as well those who will say, here is a piece of our landscape so precious in its untouched state that we should not dig or drill in it.

Which leads me to the dispute over the Peel.

I have no personal knowledge of the Peel River watershed and must leave that to others.

What I do know is that through lengthy negotiations the First Nations and the government of Yukon reached and signed off on a land claims settlement that provided for, among other matters, a process for developing land use plans affecting lands in which the First Nations had a clear interest.

By that agreed process a plan was developed for the Peel.

The First Nations had given ground to achieve the plan. The environmental lobby wasn’t entirely happy but since this is what came out of the agreed process, they accepted it. The mining industry wasn’t elated, but they would have lived with it.

But not the current leadership of the government of Yukon. They brushed aside the plan brought forward under the agreed process and dictated their own plan in line with their own ideology.

This confirms a profoundly disturbing attitude in the leadership of the present government of Yukon – an attitude that says the First Nations do not matter, that they are a peripheral people to be ignored at will.

I look forward to the decisions of the courts. At the present rate the courts will have abundant opportunity to render judicial decisions.

What a shame it had to come to this.

Alan Fry lives in Whitehorse.

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