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More than 135 military members mobilize in what local leaders call a legit hunt for downed object in the Yukon

Northern chiefs acknowledge the critical nature of having debris recovered and analyzed by officials
Premier Ranj Pillai (left), Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his son and Yukon MP Brendan Hanley approach the Whitehorse airport firehall on Feb. 13. Military aircraft provided the backdrop for a press conference. (Dana Hatherly/Yukon News)

The militarized hunt for an unidentified object ordered to be shot down over the Yukon is legit, according to some leaders of affected communities in the area.

“As long as … they’re there for a reason,” said Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in First Nation Chief Roberta Joseph.

“I think there’s a lot of wonderment in terms of what the object is and where it’s located.”

A spokesperson for the department of National Defence said by email Feb. 16 that more than 135 members are contributing to the search efforts in the territory, with “many more” assisting remotely.

“We are continuing to saturate the search area with assets from the Air Task Force,” reads the email.

“Given the mountainous terrain, deep snow cover and variable weather (which can impede visibility), the search remains challenging.”

The department and the Canadian Armed Forces do not have costs available.

The RCMP is leading the search. The investigation in the Yukon is in its “very early stages,” police said in a Feb. 16 update.

“Recent air incidents in Yukon and Lake Huron emphasized the importance of collaborative work between Canadian and American partners. The RCMP is dedicated to finding answers in order to assist both national investigations,” reads the release.

The FBI declined to comment on the News’ questions and did not confirm its involvement in the search. The defence department and RCMP did not also comment on the FBI’s involvement.

The RCMP’s statement indicates the Lake Huron search has been suspended, citing bad weather and a low probability of recovery, while the Yukon search goes on.

“We will share additional information when it becomes available as the recovery efforts and investigation unfold.”

Authorities are working on narrowing down a 3,000-square-kilometre area. At the Whitehorse airport firehall on Feb. 13, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau confirmed the object was taken down in a “fairly large area” between Dawson and Mayo.

In a Feb. 14 interview, Dawson City Mayor Bill Kendrick said folks are becoming increasingly aware that authorities are around and operating in the central Yukon region.

“It’s an interesting, odd situation we all find ourselves in, right? But I’m feeling fine about it,” he said.

“It’s a legitimate exercise that is needed to be done.”

READ MORE: Trudeau confirms unidentified object downed in ‘fairly large area’ between Dawson and Mayo

The situation has “really opened the eyes of the federal government,” Joseph said.

The chief has been hearing daily from ministers, military and police about how much they are able to accomplish in the search. She said there has been some military activity, but limited influx of personnel in the community. She said there seems to be no concerns of any threat at all.

“Everybody is doing well,” so far, she said.

Joseph is hopeful that more resources will become available in the longer term for dealing with Arctic security and sovereignty in northern Yukon as the search for debris from the object goes on in and around her traditional territory.

Military aircraft provided the backdrop for a press conference with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the Whitehorse airport on Feb. 13. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)
Military aircraft provided the backdrop for a press conference with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the Whitehorse airport on Feb. 13. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)

Northern chiefs in the Yukon are calling for a formal process of working together for a common end on Arctic sovereignty and security to ensure their voices are heard and their citizens are informed.

According to a Feb. 14 joint release, the chiefs of Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in First Nation, First Nation of Na-Cho Nyäk Dun and Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation had discussions with Defence Minister Anita Anand, Northern Affairs Minister Dan Vandal and Premier Ranj Pillai on the search, and they intend on continuing to discuss the matter with the federal and territorial governments.

In the release, the chiefs are requesting that their citizens stay away from the area of the object wreckage. They acknowledged the critical nature of having debris recovered and analyzed by officials, as well as the imperative nature of being consulted.

Rectifying exclusion

In a release on Feb. 14, Assembly of First Nations Yukon Regional Chief Kluane Adamek urged the department of National Defence to “formalize communications and collaboration” with Yukon First Nations.

Northern Yukon First Nations had been demanding federal and territorial governments rectify their exclusion on Arctic security and sovereignty.

Joseph testified on Nov. 28 before the Standing Senate Committee on National Security, Defence and Veterans Affairs on behalf of the three Yukon First Nations in proximity to the Arctic Ocean and the Alaska border. Adamek also appeared as a witness.

Joseph put forward a formal request for greater consultation to include First Nations in the northern Yukon in all discussions.

“Our lack of inclusion to date has been an oversight, and we ask for this to be rectified,” she told the committee.

“It is not acceptable that we may face military and/or other security forces coming into our communities without input from us as First Nation governments.”

Joseph told the News Feb. 16 that “in a sense … to a certain degree” she now feels more included on the topic. She said the chiefs are working on a proposal to formalize the process of working together with other levels of government.

The topic of Arctic security isn’t new to the Yukon’s premier. Much like his predecessor, Pillai wants proper funding and a clear Arctic policy in place.

Pillai said he has reaffirmed support for Arctic security from premiers across Canada last week during meetings in Ottawa. He spoke with Trudeau about the “active multi-national response to the security incidents” that have occured.

“I think our concerns and our focus was validated with some of the actions that took place,” Pillai told reporters Feb. 12.

In a Feb. 12 statement, the leader of the Official Opposition in the Yukon calls the situation a “wake-up call.”

”With this incident, and Friday’s incident involving our Alaskan neighbours, this reaffirms the need to modernize our North Warning System, and for a fully built-out Canadian Armed Forces base in the Yukon,” said Currie Dixon of the Yukon Party.

READ MORE: Unidentified object over the territory posed no risk to Yukoner’s safety, premier says

Anand has pledged $4.9 billion for ramping up the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), the binational military command system shared with the United States. The plan for that money includes “a series of new and enhanced capabilities to ensure our Canadian Armed Forces and NORAD can detect, deter and defend Canadians against threats well into the future.”

‘Suspected balloon’: top soldier

In a Feb. 15 statement on Twitter, Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Wayne Eyre said the response to recent events unfolded “exactly as we have trained and as NORAD is designed to operate.”

Eyre indicated it will be difficult to hunt down the object.

“In Yukon, efforts to locate and recover what we can now characterize as a suspected balloon are particularly challenging in the remote, mountainous area with deep snow, risk of avalanche and harsh weather conditions,” he said.

“This will take time, and I am proud of the important work our members are doing to support the recovery and effort to learn more about these objects and their origin.”

What is being described as a surveillance balloon attributed to the People’s Republic of China was taken down on Feb. 4, another object was shot down in Alaska on Feb. 10, a third object was shot down between Dawson City and Mayo on Feb. 11 and a fourth object was taken down over Lake Huron on Feb. 12.

During remarks on Feb. 16, U.S. President Joe Biden said he “gave the order to take down these three objects.” His remarks clash with what Trudeau has said about Trudeau ordering the take down of the object over the Yukon.

In a Feb. 11 news release, Pentagon Press Secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said NORAD had detected the object over Alaska late on the evening of Feb. 10. Following a call between the prime minister and the president, Biden authorized U.S. fighter aircraft assigned to NORAD to work with Canada to take down a high-altitude airborne object over northern Canada.

“A U.S. F-22 shot down the object in Canadian territory using an AIM 9X missile following close coordination between U.S. and Canadian authorities,” reads the release.

“As Canadian authorities conduct recovery operations to help our countries learn more about the object, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) will be working closely with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.”

Biden elaborated on what is known while the intelligence community continues to assesses all three unidentified objects. He noted that increased radar has led to the detection of more aerial objects, as opposed to the increased presence of objects in the air.

“We don’t yet know exactly what these three objects were,” he said.

“Nothing right now suggests they were related to China’s spy balloon program or that they were surveillance vehicles from any other country. The intelligence community’s current assessment is that these three objects were most likely balloons tied to private companies, recreation or research institutions studying weather or conducting other scientific research.”

Contact Dana Hatherly at

Dana Hatherly

About the Author: Dana Hatherly

I’m the legislative reporter for the Yukon News.
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