Better talk fast at Peel consultations

If 90-year-old Eunice Mitchell had been given a chance to speak, she would have asked about the mess left behind by oil companies at the Peel's Caribou River.


If 90-year-old Eunice Mitchell had been given a chance to speak, she would have asked about the mess left behind by oil companies at the Peel’s Caribou River.

“I was too slow,” said the bespectacled elder with a little grin as she watched Yukon government officials tear down the maps they’d tacked to the meeting room walls for the Peel land-use plan consultation Wednesday.

But she wasn’t too slow at all – organizers didn’t give her, or the other 15 participants, fair warning they were going to wrap things up.

Instead, the aging granny was told, after the fact, she’d get another chance to talk when the Peel roadshow arrives in her home community of Fort McPherson in two weeks time.

Even though she didn’t get to say her bit, Mitchell was still glad she came. She says it made her happy to hear people say so many good things about the Peel.

People, like James Firth, who used the Caribou River contaminated site as an illustration of how governments need to co-operate more closely if land use planning is going to work.

The Gwich’in had to fight long and hard to get some action on that site, he said.

“For over three years they were going up with shovels and garbage bags and hauling it out and that’s not acceptable,” Firth said.

Eventually it was cleaned up, but many other sites still remain.

Robert Charlie, who grew up on the Peel River and supports full protection for the watershed, says the issue of contaminated sites is part of a larger problem.

“I don’t know who is responsible for cleaning those up, but we have a land claims agreement that was settled in 1992 and part of the conditions in that document are that those sites are supposed to be cleaned up,” Charlie said.

“If that’s any indication on how that land is going to be protected, I don’t have any faith in government to take care of that land for us.”

The Yukon government needs to make a plan to remediate all the contaminated sites in the Peel planning area, said Norman Snowshoe.

“To ensure there is no Caribou River all over again,” he said.

Tetlit Gwich’in elder Charlie Snowshoe, who has been fighting to protect the Peel watershed since the 1980s, raised concerns about existing mineral claims.

He’s angry that most of the 8,000 or so Peel claims were staked during the land-use planning process after the government refused to impose a moratorium.

And he’s angry that once it finally issued a one-year staking ban last February, it then decided to automatically renew 2,400 claims due to expire during the ban, for free.

“What’s going on?” asked Snowshoe point blank.

Nor can he understand why the existing claims have been “grandfathered in” under the recommended plan.

“It (claim staking) shouldn’t have happened at the time they were working on the land-use planning. Five years and they were still staking claims. When you classify it (now) as a grandfathered deal, that’s not right,” he said.

Yukon government planner Renee Mayes pinned the blame for the grandfathered claims on the Peel Watershed Planning Commission.

“That (grandfathering the claims) was a recommendation that the commission, an independent body, has made to the governments. The claims have a legal basis for their existence. We haven’t explored extinguishing them and I guess the commission didn’t either because they have not recommended that,” she said.

What she failed to mention was the Yukon government didn’t give the commission any choice – it said it would not expropriate any claims or compensate claim holders.

Just who owns all these claims and what do they pay for them, Inuvik elder Liz Hansen wanted to know.

“The answers to those questions is available on the government of Yukon’s website,” said Mayes without giving any other details, such as a web address.

After Hansen pointed out that many people don’t know how to use the internet or even have access to it, Mayes agreed to have the information sent to her by mail.

That’s a good thing because even for those with a computer, an internet connection and the knowledge to use them coaxing information from the government’s mining claims database is a major challenge.

There is no way to ask for only claims in the Peel planning region. Without a company name, a claim name or a location, conducting such a search is almost impossible.

Nor does the site include any information about the money paid or work done on the claims.

Just as an aside, the controversial video, produced by the Na-cho Nyak Dun and Tr’ondek Hwech’in, was sent back down to the bottom of the agenda.

At the last meeting in Dawson City, Chief Eddie Taylor managed to persuade government officials to play the video that gives a First Nations perspective shortly after the meeting started.

Next week the Peel meetings move to Whitehorse. There will be an information session on September 13 and a public meeting on September 15 at the Yukon Inn.

Meetings will also be held in Fort McPherson, Tsiigehtchic and Mayo before the consultation period ends on October 1.

Yukon writer Mary Walden is doing a series of stories on the consultation meetings. The former CBC journalist and Yukon News editor also co-owns a wilderness tourism company that does canoe trips in the region. You can read more stories at

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Team Togo member Katie Moen sits in a sled behind a snowmobile for the ride from the airport to Chief Zzeh Gittlit School. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Coming together: How Old Crow became one of the first communities in the world to be fully vaccinated

Team Togo and Team Balto assembled with a mission to not waste a single dose of vaccine

Main Street in Whitehorse on May 4. If council moves forward with bylaw changes, eating and drinking establishments could set up pop-up patios in on-street parking spaces. (Stephanie Waddell/Yukon News)
Patios may be popping up in Whitehorse this summer

City considers program for downtown restaurants and bars

The Yukon Coroner's Service has confirmed the death of a skateboarder found injured on Hamilton Boulevard on May 2. Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News
Whitehorse man dies in skateboarding accident

Coroner urges the use of helmets, protective gear, while skateboarding.

The new Yukon Liberal caucus poses for a photo during the swearing-in ceremony held on May 3. (Yukon Government/Submitted)
Liberal cabinet sworn in at legislature before house resumes on May 11

Newly elected MLA Jeremy Harper has been nominated as speaker.

The Yukon Wildlife Preserve’s baby bison, born April 22, mingles with the herd on April 29. (John Tonin/Yukon News)
Yukon Wildlife Preserves welcomes two bison calves

A bison calf was the first 2021 baby born at the Yukon Wildlife Preserve

A map provided by the Yukon government shows the location of unpermitted logging leading to a $2,500 fine. (Courtesy/Yukon government)
Man fined $2,500 for felling trees near Beaver Creek

The incident was investigated by natural resource officers and brought to court.

The site of the Old Crow solar project photographed on Feb. 20. The Vuntut Gwitchin solar project was planned for completion last summer, but delays related to the COVID-19 pandemic pushed it back. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Old Crow is switching to solar

The first phase of the community’s solar array is already generating power.

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
One new case of COVID-19 in the Yukon

Case number 82 is the territory’s only active case

Flood and fire risk and potential were discussed April 29. Yukoners were told to be prepared in the event of either a flood or a fire. Submitted Photo/B.C. Wildfire Service
Yukoners told to be prepared for floods and wildland fire season

Floods and fire personelle spoke to the current risks of both weather events in the coming months.

From left to right, Pascale Marceau and Eva Capozzola departed for Kluane National Park on April 12. The duo is the first all-woman expedition to summit Mt. Lucania. (Michael Schmidt/Icefield Discovery)
First all-woman team summits Mt. Lucania

“You have gifted us with a magical journey that we will forever treasure.”

Whitehorse City Hall (Yukon News file)
City news, briefly

Whitehorse goings-on for the week of April 26

The Yukon Department of Education in Whitehorse on Dec. 22, 2020. The department has announced new dates for the 2021/2022 school year. (John Hopkins-Hill/Yukon News file)
Yukon school dates set for 2021/22

The schedule shows classes starting on Aug. 23, 2021 for all Whitehorse schools and in some communities.

Most Read