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Much work remains on land and water planning in Yukon

Complexity slows land use planning processes in Yukon
Elder Ralph James points to a spot on the map that shows caribou corridors for their fall migration to winter grounds while project lead Dexter Tokyla takes notes for land planning. (Lawrie Crawford/Yukon News)

At a business luncheon a few weeks ago, Premier Ranj Pillai spoke to the importance of electrical grid expansion to British Columbia and how that would a fuel a mining boom for strategic minerals and, if necessary, support the building of military installations in the territory.

With a pile of unfinished projects such as successor legislation from devolution in 2002 not yet drafted, and four out of seven regional land plans not yet started, pressure is building to get the foundational work needed to launch the territory into the near future, actually done.

Energy, Mines and Resources Minister John Streicker believes the task is not insurmountable.

“We can sort through these things,” he told the News March 9. “There’s always complexity.”

The start of the legislative session March 2 coincided with three consultations underway on the government’s survey tool, Engage Yukon: one on road regulations allowing for restricted access, and two successor legislation pieces for the Forest Act and the beginning consultations on replacing the Quartz and Placer Act.

These last two pieces, plus the Lands Act, were argued as urgent and needed for local control under the devolution transfer agreement of powers from the federal government to the territorial government at the turn of the century.

Sebastian Jones from the Yukon Conservation Society summed up other planning projects underway. These include: the almost-final Dawson land use plan which has been passed from the Dawson planning commission to the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in First Nation and the Yukon government for an ultimate decision; a wetlands policy that was five years in the works which, he says, may have fairly displeased everybody; and a Lands Act questionnaire that recently closed and will likely re-emerge in the form of another “What We Heard” report.

There is much to be done, hence the current flurry of consultations and questionnaires.

“It’s a good thing the government wants to know what we think,” quipped Jones. “It’s much better than the alternative.”

Land use planning envisioned first, running last

It’s been 30 years since the Umbrella Final Agreement was signed with the first four First Nations – Vuntut Gwitchin, Teslin Tlingit Council, First Nation of Nacho Nyak Dun (FNNND) and Champagne Aishihik First Nation. The agreement called for land use planning in its Chapter 11. Only the Vuntut Gwitchin have seen regional land use planning completed in their traditional territory.

“It was always assumed regional land use planning would be first out of the gate, then everything else would happen,” said Jones.

Streicker agreed.

“The notion was that land use planning would come early, be done fairly quickly, and then we would move on,” the minister said.

“But we all know that that’s not what happened,” noted Jones. “Land use planning turned out to be way more complex than anybody anticipated.”

Streicker owns the fact that the government bears ultimate responsibility, but added, “We are not making those same mistakes.”

With the Dawson plan winding down, the question of who’s next hangs. The executive director of the land use planning council, Tim Sellars, said talks are underway between Yukon government and respective First Nations discussing who or what area might be next.

Streicker is involved in those talks. He told the News he has had meetings on the upcoming process for land use planning, and that he has more scheduled. With several First Nation governments in the midst of elections, decisions may take a while.

The new important piece is that the government has committed to not doing just one region at a time and is willing to move forward on multiple fronts.

“There’s four of the regional plans that are left, and I’m in conversations with nations about those land use plans. I’m telling them that we are willing to do more than one at a time,” Streicker said. “I’m not trying to pick who’s next and who’s not next. I’m trying to meet nations where they are at.”

Streicker said his government made a commitment to FNNND at the Vancouver minerals round-up to begin land planning.

“We made that commitment, but they’re in an election cycle.”

He pointed out that the Northern Tutchone land planning region, although largely FNNND traditional territory, is also home to the territory of Selkirk First Nation and the Little Salmon Carmacks First Nation.

“Selkirk First Nation is in an election cycle and they really wanted to use this election cycle to consider whether they would want to get started on Chapter 11 regional planning with us.”

He is hopeful that all three nations are interested in going together, but he says he is willing to navigate through alternatives.

“If that is the reality, we will work to accommodate.”

The Southern Lakes planning region is also marked by overlapping traditional territories. Kwanlin Dün First Nation, Ta’an Kwach’an Council and Carcross/Tagish First Nation have put years of preparation into what they call “land relationship planning.” Their vision is not a plan to allocate land for different uses, but instead plans for land and water together, and to find ways to maintain good relations between, land, animals and people.

The Teslin Tlingit Council planning area is more singularly defined to their traditional territory. A planning process was started in the Teslin region, but was suspended in 2004 before a draft plan was produced. Daḵká, the collective of the inland Tlingit peoples — Carcross/Tagish, Teslin Tlingit Council and Atlin’s Taku River Tlingits — are currently involved in B.C. treaty negotiations for the overlapping areas between the three Daḵká nations, Yukon and British Columbia.

The land use planning council’s website notes none of the boundaries of the planning areas have been set or agreed upon. Overlapping boundaries were often viewed as fluid, and tended to be areas of cooperation, not rigid or dotted lines.

The fourth region is the Kluane planning area, which includes the traditional territories of the Champagne Aishihik and the Kluane First Nations. Kluane National Park and Kluane Park reserve lands protect a significant base of land within that planning region.

Jones explained other planning processes are underway, such as the identification of “wildlife key areas” which are areas identified for life stages of different species like late winter moose habit. These are in addition to the legislated parks and special management areas, some of which arrived during the early negotiations of land claims. A few special management areas remain to be clarified and ratified. Kaska Dena are using the Indigenous Protection and Conservation area designation for large areas of its traditional area that spans into the Northwest Territories and B.C., though Jones said it lacks legislative authorities.

Streicker admitted the pace of planning was not what they had anticipated as a government.

“It doesn’t take away from the need to do land use planning,” he said.

“It’s not been as fast as we anticipated, but it’s still important.”

READ MORE:Three Yukon First Nations combine traditional knowledge and modern mapping in preparation for land use planning

Contact Lawrie Crawford at