The territory is breaking an agreement with First Nations over changes to oil and gas laws, the Council of Yukon First Nations asserts.
The Yukon government is moving to strip some First Nations of their veto power over oil and gas developments. Those powers date back to the territory’s efforts to wrest control over the Yukon’s resources from Ottawa.
Originally, First Nations objected to Ottawa devolving power over resources to the territory. They agreed to allow it after a memorandum of agreement was signed between First Nations and Yukon in 1994.
Among other things, this agreement gave unsigned First Nations the power to veto oil and gas developments. This power is supposed to remain in place until final agreements are in place with all First Nations.
But, in a letter to First Nations this month, Resources Minister Brad Cathers said that the territory plans to remove the consent clause because the three First Nations without an agreement have made it clear that they are unwilling to sign an Umbrella Final Agreement-styled land claim.
However, there is “no timeline for the application” of this clause, the council’s lawyers note. Their legal interpretation of the agreement shows the only “sunset” or “expiration” of this consent clause can come with a signed land claim agreement.
Cathers has said that the veto power was only granted to allow land claim talks to continue. But the 1994 agreement suggests that the clause was created to help devolution talks along, note First Nations.
The 1994 agreement also established a working group made up of territorial and First Nations’ officials.
Their last meeting was in April 2011. In attendance were Daryn Leas and Brian Bell, on behalf of the aboriginal council, and Ron Sumanik and Debra Wortley of the territory’s oil and gas branch.
According to Leas and Bell, at that meeting the territory said it would not remove the consent clause from the Oil and Gas Act.
The idea to remove the consent clause was first proposed in 2009. First Nations objected then, too.
Cathers wouldn’t comment on the matter until after the changes have been tabled in the legislative assembly. That must occur within the first five days of the fall sitting, which starts tomorrow.
First Nations have been told they only have until Oct. 29 to offer their input on the proposed changes.
“Why does the minister think he can just unilaterally do this without discussion?” asked Grand Chief Ruth Massie. “Where’s the respect and recognition to self-governing First Nations? It just flies in the face.
“For him to give us a deadline, number one, is very, very bothersome. We’re trying to build a relationship with this government and are requesting government-to-government, face-to-face meetings.”
First Nations with settled land claims have a constitutionally-backed say in any oil and gas rights given on their lands and there is a legal obligation to consult with them for any rights on their traditional territory.
For First Nations without a land claim, this consent clause in the territory’s oil and gas laws is really all they have.
In September, Chief Liard McMillan of the Liard First Nation – one of the three unsigned First Nations in Yukon – announced he would veto any new oil and gas rights in their traditional territory in southeastern Yukon until the territory addressed a number of different issues that have gone sour.
The Liard First Nation is a member of the Council of Yukon First Nations, and the council supports them and their rights to this consent clause, said Massie.
“It’s a benefit for all of us,” she said.
Other proposed changes to oil and gas laws include allowing regulations on storage and handling of liquefied natural gas. There is no proposal for any ban or regulation of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.
A group opposed to fracking in the territory will gather at the legislative assembly at noon tomorrow. They can also be contacted on Facebook at Yukoners Concerned About Oil and Gas Exploration/Development.
Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at