Decision imminent on Peel watershed

Talks have concluded between the Yukon government and the four affected First Nations on the fate of the Peel watershed. 

Talks have concluded between the Yukon government and the four affected First Nations on the fate of the Peel watershed.

The First Nation of Nacho Nyak Dun, Tr’ondek Hwech’in, Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation, and Gwich’in Tribal Council jointly announced on Friday that they have approved the Peel planning commission’s final recommended plan as it applies to their settlement lands.

However, the First Nations only have jurisdiction over about three per cent of the area. The Yukon government has final say over the rest.

The final recommended plan called for 80 per cent of the watershed be protected from new roads and development.

“Ideally, we would have preferred to see 100 per cent of the Peel protected from industrial development,” said Tr’ondek Hwech’in Chief Eddie Taylor in a news release, “although we are prepared to compromise in order to accommodate the interests of the Yukon government and the Yukon mining community.”

The chiefs called on the Yukon government to follow suit and accept the final recommended plan for the remaining 97 per cent of the watershed.

“We are either going to have a big celebration or a big fight,” said Nacho Nyak Dun Chief Ed Champion.

The Yukon government has not yet indicated what land use plan it intends to implement.

In December, the government extended a staking ban for the area until January 21.

A spokesperson said Monday that it is reasonable to expect that an announcement will be made soon, but would not confirm when it will be made.

The fact that the First Nations made the announcement independently from the territorial government suggests that consensus could not be reached through the negotiation process.

Indeed, the Yukon Party government has indicated previously that is unwilling to accept the final recommended plan, arguing that a plan more friendly to industrial development would be appropriate.

The First Nations believe that it would be illegal for the Yukon government to implement its own plan at this stage in the process, according to the news release.

And they are willing to fight.

“We will do whatever is necessary to defend the integrity of our final agreements,” said Champion.

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at jronson@yukon-news.com

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