My name is Joseph Tetlichi, a Tetlit Gwich’in citizen born and raised at a place called Vih Chloo Tchik (Road River).
This is my family’s traditional camp, 72 kilometres upstream from Fort McPherson on the Peel River.
Growing up, I experienced the lifestyle my people had before Ski-Doos - we travelled by dog team and we were taught bush skills - how to read the river, fish and hunt, and work together as a family. After all these years, even though my parents have passed away, we are still a strong family because of our continuing connection to the land and water of the Peel Watershed.
After high school, I chose to come back to our traditional camp, and I lived there almost year round for 20 years, hunting, fishing and trapping.
Later I moved to the communities of Fort McPherson, Old Crow and, eventually, Whitehorse. But every fall we still travel to the Snake, Bonnet Plume and Wind Rivers to see their beauty, listen to the water, fish and hunt and enjoy being together as an extended family.
There is no contamination, we know the moose and fish are there and there is peace and solitude along with clean waters.
Over the Labour Day weekend, I went to my family’s camp to go moose hunting. It was good to be back there and see the water is still clean, the wildlife is still healthy and my family’s children are growing up there in our traditional way.
Being there, I appreciated, again, how important the wildlife and land of the Peel Watershed are to my people for healthy living.
When I was young, I took for granted that the land and water of the Peel River and its tributaries would always be pure and healthy. But now, as an aboriginal person, my ultimate responsibility is to ensure the clean land, water and healthy wildlife will always be there for the children who are not yet born.
As aboriginal people we share our resources. We open our hearts and camps to paddlers that come down the Peel to experience the beauty it has to offer. Non-aboriginal people need to think about their children too - if we dig up this land and destroy these rivers what will be left for your children?
The community of Fort McPherson is very concerned about the pollution of the Athabasca River by the tarsands. We do not want this kind of contamination to happen to the Peel River and its tributaries.
Government and industry say ‘properly regulated’ industry can look after the environment, but you just have to look at the tarsands, the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico and abandoned mines like Faro to know this is not true.
Over the years in the Peel Watershed, we’ve seen impacts from oil and gas and mining exploration. We’ve seen cutlines and garbage and fuel spills. This began prior to land claims when we did not have a voice. I’ve seen seismic exploration in my back yard and there was not a thing I could do about it at that time.
The water is still pure and the wildlife is still healthy, but if industry is allowed to continue in this watershed and, especially if roads are allowed, we will lose our traditional way of life and cultural health.
Chamber of Mines president Carl Schulze has been saying that mining and oil and gas can coexist in the Peel Watershed, along with traditional activities and healthy wildlife. That is just not true.
Industry is never satisfied - the more they see the more they want. The roads multiply, the wildlife disappears and, when prices drop, they leave behind a mess. You cannot restore a place once there are roads, seismic lines, trenches, blasting, drilling and chemicals.
I totally support the Na-Cho Nyak Dun and Tr’ondek Hwech’in First Nations’ goal of protecting the entire Peel Watershed.
Schulze, there really isn’t room in the Peel Watershed for both you and me.
The difference between you and me is that I am here to stay, whereas you can move on when you see fit.
I challenge all Yukoners to attend the community consultation meetings in your communities and to voice your support for protection of the Peel River watershed.
The Whitehorse community consultation on the recommended Peel Watershed land-use plan is on Wed. Sept. 15th, from 6 - 9 p.m. at the Yukon Inn.
Joe Tetlichi is chair of the
Porcupine Caribou Management Board.