The Yukon government should implement a staking ban across the territory so that it has time to properly consult First Nations on changes to mining legislation, according to a December 2 letter signed by Ruth Massie, grand chief of the Council of Yukon First Nations.
The Yukon Court of Appeal has ordered the government to better consult First Nations on mining staking and exploration activities. Yukon must comply by December 27.
The court case was brought forward by the Ross River Dena Council, who argued that allowing staking and low-level exploration activities on its traditional territory without notification or accommodation infringed on its aboriginal rights and title.
The government has tabled amendments to the Quartz Mining Act and Placer Mining Act that would allow for areas to be identified where consultation would be required for Class 1 exploration.
It is also consulting with the Ross River Dena Council to see if certain areas in the traditional territory should be withdrawn from staking, said Mines Minister Scott Kent in an interview last month.
First Nations were given a deadline of December 2 to comment on the changes, according to the CYFN letter.
But they were only given the draft regulations and summary of the new proposed consultation process on November 13.
This does not give First Nations enough time to meaningfully participate, wrote Massie.
“I accept the time constraint placed on the Yukon government through the Yukon Court of Appeal, yet it appears efforts from the CYFN and the Yukon First Nations to engage Yukon government in a collaborative and productive manner continue to go unheeded.”
When the Yukon government first announced the proposed changes to the mining regime, it suggested that notification of First Nations for Class 1 exploration activities would be implemented across the territory, without exception.
Class 1 activities include clearing trees, building trails, digging up rock and even the use of explosives.
But last month it became clear that the government only plans to require Class 1 notification in certain designated areas.
The Council of Yukon First Nations would like to see this reversed, according to the letter.
Chiefs of the Teslin Tlingit Council and the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations also wrote the premier in the last week detailing concerns with the proposed mining rule changes and the consultation process.
“We find the consultation process to date flawed and entirely inadequate,” wrote James Allen, chief of the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations. “There has not been sufficient time, nor enough information or opportunities to discuss issues and exchange ideas to provide a full informed and considered opinion.”
Carl Sidney, chief of the Teslin Tlingit Council, suggested that just because the First Nations with final agreements have signed away ownership of parts of their territory does not mean that the government can do whatever it wishes.
“Ownership always comes with limitation, regulation, and circumscription,” wrote Sidney. “A fee-simple owner does not, in the modern age, keep the right to burn down their house in a crowded subdivision, just as YG does not have the right to trample over settlement lands that are crowded with our rights, stories, and history.”
The government must re-evaluate its approach to land management and dealing with First Nations if it wished to avoid future court battles, according to the letter.
“It would very much be our preference to avoid such action and to move forward together towards reconciliation in ways that do not require recourse to the courts. For this to happen, for mining to occur in our traditional territories in a responsible way, your government needs to re-evaluate its approach to our government, and work with us to define and enact a vision for the future that aligns with the optimism that originally infused the land claims process”
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