A meeting between Premier Darrell Pasloski and Kaska leaders last Friday was disappointing, said Liard McMillan, chief of the Liard First Nation.
The premier confirmed Friday his government’s intention to remove the Kaska’s veto power over oil and gas development in their traditional territory, and failed to recognize their unsurrendered rights to the land, said McMillan.
“I think the premier and Minister (Brad) Cathers are too busy drinking their frack cola and pissing all over aboriginal rights and title to really pay attention to what the real issues are and look for a collaborative and respectful solution.”
Cathers was notably absent from the meeting, said McMillan. The premier’s attitude was in stark contrast to what McMillan heard from the Yukon Chamber of Mines the day before, he said.
“The Yukon Chamber of Mines seems to get it,” he said. “They get that the Kaska have unsurrendered rights and title, and they’re willing to work with us to communicate that point to the mining industry.”
The Kaska announced in September it would ban any new oil and gas dispositions in their traditional territory because of the government’s refusal to come to the table on a number of issues.
Under the Yukon Oil and Gas Act, unsigned First Nations must consent to development on their land.
But the Yukon government argues that the veto power was conditional on First Nations moving towards a land claims agreement, which the Kaska have no intention of doing.
It has tabled changes to the act in the legislature, including a removal of the veto clause.
The revised Oil and Gas Act will be debated today. With the majority Yukon Party government, there is little doubt that it will pass as written.
In November the Kaska threatened to expand its ban by banning all mineral exploration and possibly setting up a blockade on the North Canol Road.
It was after that announcement that the premier agreed to meet with Kaska leaders.
At the meeting, he explained to Kaska representatives that the government has spent more than a decade and millions of dollars trying to reach an agreement with them.
“I told the chiefs, ‘It’s time for us as leaders to focus on what the priority is, and that’s the people, the people of Watson Lake, the people of Ross River,’” said Pasloski.
“And it is time to create opportunities for people to have good jobs, to be able to train in new trades and also for opportunities to create businesses. And that with this economic prosperity, it would also help us deal with some of the social issues that result as well.”
That didn’t sit well with McMillan. “I think the premier thinks that a Yukoner is a Yukoner is a Yukoner, and we don’t agree with that rhetoric at all,” he said.
McMillan also had some advice for industry.
“Companies need to realize that they need to talk to us at the outset, at the beginning of a project, and to not wait,” he said. “The time is now to talk to us about these projects. We don’t need to do that with another level of government in the room. It can be directly between the Kaska and the industry.”
As for further action against the government, all cards are still on the table, said McMillan.
Kaska leaders plan to meet soon and discuss the next steps, he said.
Contact Jacqueline Ronson at firstname.lastname@example.org