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Breaking borders

Some British Columbians will share the profits of Yukon-based developments through an agreement signed among Kaska nations. Two weeks ago, a signing ceremony for the Kaska Collaboration Agreement was held in Watson Lake.

Some British Columbians will share the profits of Yukon-based developments through an agreement signed among Kaska nations.

Two weeks ago, a signing ceremony for the Kaska Collaboration Agreement was held in Watson Lake. It’s the product of five years of negotiations, said Liard McMillan, chief of the Liard First Nation.

“It’s basically an agreement on how the five Kaska communities will work together and share benefits from economic deals with resource companies operating within traditional territory,” he said.

That traditional territory does not follow the provincial/territorial border.

For example, McMillan is chief of both the Liard First Nation and the Lower Post, BC-based Daylu Dena Council.

The other Kaska nations include the Ross River Dena Council in Ross River, the Dease River First Nation from Good Hope Lake, BC, and the Kwadacha First Nation from Fort Ware, BC.

For generations, the Kaska have tried to solidify their nations across provincial and territorial borders.

Recently, it was the Kaska Tribal Council that provided a central force for services, support and, most of all, federal funding to all five communities.

But the council has been closed since the spring.

It was the only tribal council in the Yukon region funded by Ottawa, but funding was cut in 2011 because of overdue audit information.

In the interest of providing better clarity and a “one-window approach” for industry on Kaska traditional territory, “There will be a defined lead, based on the affected community, but there will be a central co-ordinating body,” said McMillan, adding re-establishing the tribal council is a likely option.

“Also, the collaboration agreement has provisions to allow the Liard First Nation to move ahead with the Kaska on the oil-and-gas development in southeast Yukon,” he said. “That’s something that will probably be a major initiative that we’ll be working towards with the territorial government as things move ahead.”

The only oil-and-gas field in the Yukon, called the Kotaneelee, was discovered in 1977. It is by no means a large producer. It is now 34 years old and saw diminished production after water seeped into the natural gas reservoir in 2005.

“In Canada, it’s a small part of a very large amount of assets we own,” said Nadine Barber from Devon Energy, which owns 70 per cent of the field. “It’s not unimportant, just small.”

In recent years, the corporation has been working predominantly in oil and liquid gas in Alberta. The gas in the Kotaneelee is called “dry” gas in the industry; this gas is less lucrative, said Barber.

Overall in Canada, the corporation produces about 200,000 barrels of oil and natural gas a day. The Kotaneelee provides less than five per cent of that, she said.

And the corporation doesn’t have any plans on drilling new rigs or expanding the Kotaneelee anytime soon, she added.

“It’s not in our immediate plans to drill anything in that area in the near future,” Barber said, adding that there haven’t been any recent talks with local First Nations about any new development, nor any plans to do so.

In the past, royalties from the Kotaneelee have been divided among all Yukon First Nations that have signed a land claim agreement.

The Kaska nations (Ross River Dena Council and Liard First Nation) have not signed a final agreement.

So, despite the gas-and-oil field being on their traditional territory, Yukon Kaska nations have not received any of the royalties.

“Basically, if you don’t have a final agreement, you don’t get a share of the royalties,” said Jesse Devost from the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources.

Since the Oil and Gas Act was passed, any new developments in their traditional territory require the Kaskas’ consent, he added.

But the Kotaneelee was established before land claims and before the Oil and Gas Act, which means its lease has been grandfathered. If any new rigs are put on that exact lease, for example, nothing will change without a Kaska final land-claim agreement.

But McMillan still believes the future could be bright for oil and gas in southeastern Yukon.

“Moving ahead with oil and gas with the Yukon government will be quite significant,” he said. “It will probably represent about $5 billion over 25 years, in terms of the scale of potential development.”

And the territory has recognized the recent sharing agreement signed by all five Kaska communities - in the Yukon and BC.

So, if there are new developments, and a consent agreement is reached between the territory, Liard First Nation and the Ross River Dena Council, “any revenues generated as a result of that agreement will be shared amongst the Kaska First Nations pursuant to the sharing agreement signed by all Kaska parties on September 29,” said Devost.

“The agreement is both historic and monumental,” said McMillan. “We wouldn’t have been able to carry much further forward without having one in place. It was quite important.”

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at