Chiefs slighted by ministers

Energy, Mines and Resources Minister Patrick Rouble snubbed two Yukon First Nation chiefs yesterday by cancelling a meeting at the last minute.

Energy, Mines and Resources Minister Patrick Rouble snubbed two Yukon First Nation chiefs yesterday by cancelling a meeting at the last minute.

“We’re deeply insulted,” said Na-cho Nyak Dun Chief Simon Mervyn, who, along with Tr’ondek Hwech’in Chief Eddie Taylor, arrived at Rouble’s office on Thursday for a scheduled 9 a.m. meeting.

The Yukon government has been dragging its feet over the controversial Peel Watershed land-use plan, and the chiefs set up the meeting to voice their concerns.

But when the chiefs arrived, an assistant of Rouble’s emerged from the cabinet offices and told them the meeting was cancelled.

“She told us he was busy,” said Mervyn.

No explanation for the sudden cancellation was provided, he said.

The meeting was scheduled two weeks ago and neither chief received notice of the cancellation before arriving.

Rouble’s assistant asked Taylor if he had received a phone message mentioning the cancellation.

He had not.

“We didn’t even get anything in writing,” said Mervyn.

It’s the second time cabinet ministers have snubbed the chiefs this week.

A meeting with Community Services Minister Archie Lang was supposed to happen yesterday afternoon at 1:30 p.m.

On Tuesday, Lang’s assistant called Taylor to cancel that meeting, which was related to economic development opportunities along the Dempster Highway.

She told Taylor that Lang wouldn’t do the meeting without Premier Dennis Fentie present, and Fentie wasn’t available.

There was no attempt to reschedule the meetings, said Mervyn.

The chiefs – who represent over 1,500 people between them – are worried the government is stalling on negotiations over the Peel land-use plan.

“But why are we sitting here speculating and wondering?” said Mervyn. “Why won’t they work with us?”

A request to speak with Rouble was not returned before press time.

By this point in the land-use process, leaders on all sides are supposed to be meeting regularly.

After an arm’s-length land-use planning commission published its report in late 2009, recommending 80 per cent of the watershed be protected from industrial development, the four First Nation governments and the Yukon government signed a letter of understanding scheduling the final phase of the process.

The letter provided for meetings between high-level bureaucrats from all five parties over the year. The bureaucrats are known as the Senior Liaison Committee.

The Yukon government was also going to hold public consultations in communities around the watershed in August and September, which it did.

The final phase would consist of meetings between the chiefs and the territorial leadership over the commission’s findings, says the letter.

Each party would submit their views on the plan and begin negotiations.

The deadline for those submissions is December 15.

Getting the submissions in by that time is crucial because a moratorium on new mining staking ends in early February.

But beginning in the fall, the Yukon government began sending signals it wasn’t going to state its views on the commission’s recommendation.

All four First Nations have been unequivocal in their call for 100 per cent protection of the watershed.

The Yukon government, on the other hand, says it has no opinion on the watershed because the process is still ongoing.

However, Fentie was caught suppressing pro-environmental documents from reaching the committee last summer, betraying the government’s public neutrality.

The First Nations called for another Senior Technical Committee meeting in early November.

They wanted the Yukon government to finally give them some idea of what its position was going to be.

But Angus Robertson, deputy minister of Energy, Mines and Resources and the government’s point man on the committee, said that a letter sent from the First Nations in October was confusing.

The October 21 letter reiterates the First Nations’ commitment to protecting 100 per cent of the watershed.

When Robertson refused to hold a meeting with the chiefs, Taylor and Mervyn decided to schedule the meeting with Rouble.

Yesterday, after being snubbed, the chiefs got a stronger sign the government isn’t interested in implementing the pro-conservation land-use plan.

The cancelled meeting with Lang, despite covering a different issue, is another sign the government is avoiding the First Nations, said the chiefs.

That meeting was supposed to begin a process set out under Chapter 22 of the Umbrella Final Agreement, meant to develop economic opportunities for First Nations.

The intent was to look at whether First Nation members would be able to begin managing the Dempster Highway and working the many jobs related to its maintenance.

Mervyn is upset important law is being treated with such disrespect.

“The relationship between us is not working,” he said.

Contact James Munson at

jamesm@yukon-news.com

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