Yukon’s new Class 1 exploration regime could be extended to new parts of the territory this summer, according to Liberal Leader Sandy Silver.
Until this year prospectors could work their claims up to a certain threshold of activity without notifying government or First Nations. Class 1 is the lowest level of exploration, and can include activities such as clearing trees, building trails, digging up rock and the use of explosives.
That changed after a Yukon Court of Appeal ruled that such activities in the Ross River traditional territory could infringe on the aboriginal rights of the Ross River Dena Council.
As a result, the Yukon government has introduced new rules where notification and consultation is required for Class 1 activities in designated areas of the territory.
To date, the rules have only been applied in the Ross River area and parts of the Peel watershed.
But since then, the B.C.-based Taku River Tlingit First Nation and Kaska Dena Council have each sued the Yukon government, demanding the same protections.
The White River First Nation has threatened a lawsuit as well.
According to Silver, Premier Darrell Pasloski promised chiefs in a closed-door meeting last week that the new Class 1 rules would apply to Liard First Nation and White River First Nation territory as of July 1.
“He also said that notification for Class 1 activities would be introduced Yukon-wide sooner rather than later,” said Silver in the legislature Monday.
The Yukon government will not confirm or deny any planned changes to the Class 1 exploration regime.
“When we have an announcement to make, we’ll make it together with our partners,” wrote a spokesperson for the government in an email.
Mike Power, president of the Yukon Prospectors’ Association, said the association will not comment until the government makes an announcement about what it intends to do.
Silver said in an interview Tuesday that the government is creating uncertainty for prospectors going into this exploration season.
“This is the government that keeps promising certainty, yet here is another example of just the opposite.
“They’ve been playing politics with this situation as opposed to uniting governments and industry on this very important issue.”
Samson Hartland, executive director of the Yukon Chamber of Mines, said it’s a good sign that the government is meeting with First Nations.
“That speaks volumes if those sorts of discussions are taking place. That’s fantastic, because the alternative is potentially the courtroom, and I think that creates more uncertainty for the industry and for the marketplace. And I think that’s certainly what everyone would like to avoid.”
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