The First Nation of Na-Cho Nyak Dun successfully sued the Yukon government to reverse the approval of a mining exploration project in its traditional territory. (First Nation of Na-Cho Nyak Dun/Facebook)

The First Nation of Na-Cho Nyak Dun successfully sued the Yukon government to reverse the approval of a mining exploration project in its traditional territory. (First Nation of Na-Cho Nyak Dun/Facebook)

First Nation lawsuit successfully halts exploration work in Beaver River watershed

First Nation of Na-Cho NyƤk Dun notes that the company voluntarily halted work as court case progressed

The Yukon Supreme Court’s decision to reverse the territorial government’s approval of mine exploration work in a watershed that’s the subject of incomplete land use planning is being hailed as a victory by the First Nation who launched the legal challenge.

On Jan. 31, the court ruled on the First Nation of Na-Cho Nyäk Dun’s (FNNND) request for a judicial review of the early 2021 approval of work proposed by Metallic Minerals Inc. The project had been planned exploration in the Beaver River Watershed, known to the First Nation as Tsé Tagé, that was approved by the territorial government. The project had proceeded through the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board (YESAB) process before it was approved.

The court’s review reversed the approval of the project finding that the government had failed to adequately consult FNNND on the project and failed to conform to the First Nation’s treaty, particularly the agreement to conduct land use planning.

“The decision is a win for FNNND and a vindication of the First Nation’s tireless efforts to see their treaty implemented, as well as a rebuke of Yukon Government’s conduct in and its flawed approach to working with First Nations,” a Feb. 3 statement from FNNND’s government reads.

FNNND Chief Simon Mervyn said the Yukon government must work with them on the implementation of their treaty. Mervyn said FNNND welcomes the government’s commitment to undertaking land use planning for the First Nation’s traditional territory.

The government has promised completion of land use planning for the Beaver River watershed this year.

Chief Mervyn noted the court decision arrived on the 30th anniversary of the signing of the FNNND Final Agreement and the 50th anniversary of Together Today for our Children Tomorrow, the document that commenced the final agreement and modern land claim process in the Yukon.

In the Feb. 3 statement, FNNND expressed its appreciation to Metallic Minerals which, according to both the First Nation and the company’s CEO, voluntarily chose not to undertake the exploration efforts at the centre of the case while it was proceeding and also did not oppose FNNND’s lawsuit.

Greg Johnson, Metallic Minerals’ CEO, said the work that had been approved prior to the court challenge was in its very early stages. He noted the company’s significant engagement with FNNND through the YESAB process and said that Metallic had agreed to mitigations and has a good working rapport with the First Nation overall.

Johnson said he believes that FNNND’s concerns that led to the court challenge were more with the Yukon government’s treaty and consultation process than with the project itself.

With the project being returned to YESAB, Johnson said the company is in no rush to do anything. He said he is glad to see the matter is through the courts and plans to await fresh information as the project returns to YESAB.

A representative of the Yukon government’s department of Energy, Mines and Resources told the News that the government is currently reviewing the court’s decision and would be able to provide more commentary on it once they had.

Contact Jim Elliot at jim.elliot@yukon-news.com