Atlin First Nation threatens lawsuit over campground

The Taku River Tlingit First Nation has threatened legal action if the Yukon government pushes forward with its plan for a new campground on Atlin Lake.

The Taku River Tlingit First Nation has threatened legal action if the Yukon government pushes forward with its plan for a new campground on Atlin Lake.

“The TRTFN respectfully requests the Yukon government immediately halt any further development of the proposed Yukon government campground, located within the TRTFN’s unsurrendered traditional territory, until it has engaged in meaningful consultation with the TRTFN,” states a Nov. 1 letter from the First Nation’s lawyers to Premier Darrell Pasloski.

The First Nation, based in Atlin, has a traditional territory that crosses into the Yukon.

The Yukon government plans to build a new campground just north of the B.C. border, on the eastern shore of Atlin Lake.

The First Nation first learned of the plan from a government news release dated March 14, 2013, according to the letter.

“The Yukon government should have consulted the TRTFN in advance of this public announcement.”

The first meeting between the First Nation and Yukon officials did not occur for six months after that, according to the letter.

The government has indicated that it would be open to consulting with the First Nation on the campground project.

It suggested developing a “consultation framework” in an Oct. 4 letter to the First Nation.

But the First Nation wants to talk about a land claim agreement before it talks about the campground.

“Let’s get on with our treaty process and bring certainty to the whole area,” said John Ward, the First Nation’s spokesperson, in an interview last month.

Until governments sit down and reach an agreement on land claims, development projects in the traditional territory should not be considered, he said.

“Supreme courts have been saying consistently and across Canada that these constitutional matters are well upstream from all of these matters, and they’ve got to be dealt with.”

Ward could not be reached for comment by press time this week.

The First Nation is considering the area of the proposed campground as a land selection for future land claims negotiations with the Yukon government, according to the letter from the lawyers.

“In the past, numerous land dispositions occurred within the TRTFN’s unsurrendered traditional territory without prior consultation. These lands are no longer available to the TRTFN for land selection.”

The letter also indicates that the First Nation would be happy to work with the government to find a campground location that they can both agree on.

“Discussing this alternative is important because it provides an avenue for conciliation, as opposed to litigation. Meaningful and respectful government-to-government engagement must be a basis for moving forward.”

Opposition NDP MLA Kevin Barr asked the government in the legislature this week if it would halt campground development until outstanding issues with the Taku River Tlingit are resolved.

“The premier, in a letter to the Taku River Tlingit, offered to them to enter into a consultation protocol,” responded Environment Minister Currie Dixon. “They declined. Their priority is to enter into a treaty negotiation with Yukon government. Of course, what we said is that their primary area of claim is British Columbia. We want them to make at least some sort of effort to engage in treaty negotiations with the British Columbia government and the government of Canada, at which point we will be happy to come to the table when it’s appropriate for us to do so.”

Ministers for the Yukon government did not respond to an interview request by press time.

The campground proposal is currently before the Yukon Environment and Socio-economic Assessment Board, which will issue a recommendation by November 25.

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at

jronson@yukon-news.com

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