First Nation opposes Atlin campground

A First Nation isn't cheering like happy campers over the proposed Atlin campground. Construction has not yet begun, but the campground will open May 2015, according to the Environment Department's website.

A First Nation isn’t cheering like happy campers over the proposed Atlin campground.

Construction has not yet begun, but the campground will open May 2015, according to the Environment Department’s website.

The campground will include approximately 55 campsites, a boat launch, playground and cook shelters.

The territory announced its plans on building a 112-hectare campground on the eastern shore of Atlin Lake in March.

“As a part of the planning process, the Yukon government will seek input from the public, affected First Nations, and stakeholders,” a press release from Environment Yukon stated at the time.

But the Taku River Tlingit First Nation in Atlin, B.C. said they do not agree with the way their concerns are being addressed.

“Their idea of consulting doesn’t meet our needs,” said John Ward, a spokesperson for the Taku River Tlingit.

“This should be government to government. (Premier) Pasloski needs to talk to me,” said Ward, who has duties similar to a chief.

Environment officials have notified the Taku River Tlingit about the project, said Elaine Schiman, a spokesperson for the Yukon cabinet.

The board is currently assessing the campsite project and is accepting comments from the public until Sept.3.

The board is an independent body that makes recommendations to the territory on development projects. It takes into consideration concerns from unsettled First Nations, even if the aboriginal community is outside Yukon’s jurisdiction, said Rob Yeomans, communications manager for the board.

That’s the case Ward’s First Nation finds itself in. While the Taku River Tlingit are based in Atlin, B.C., their traditional territory extends across the Yukon border to include the area of the proposed campsite. Several Yukon First Nations also have overlapping traditional territories in the area.

This isn’t the first time the Taku River Tlingit have disagreed with a project on their traditional lands. They fought the building of a mining road that would have run through their territory in 2000.

Redfern Resources Ltd. received a permit from the B.C. government in 1999 to build the road, which was supposed to create access to the Tulsequah Chief mine.

In 2000, the Taku River Tlingit fought the company in the Supreme Court of B.C., alleging that they had not been sufficiently consulted for the project. They won, as Justice Pamela Kirkpatrick ruled that the environment and energy ministers did not meaningfully address their concerns. 

However, the Supreme Court of Canada overturned that decision, arguing that B.C. officials did accommodate the First Nation’s concerns by implementing measures to address their immediate and long-term concerns. The province was not under a duty to reach an agreement with the Taku River Tlingits, which does not breach the “obligations of good faith owed” to the First Nation, the judgement states.

Negotiations over the Taku River First Nation’s outstanding land claims have been ongoing since 1993. The federal government accepted the validity of these land claims in 1984, a summary of the case states.

An essential part of the 2004 decision was that all governments must seek the First Nation’s consent for development projects, according to Pape and Salter, the law firm that defended the First Nation.

This isn’t the first time the Taku River Tlingit have disagreed with a project on their traditional lands. They fought the building of a mining road that would have run through their territory in B.C. in 2004.

Redfern Resources Ltd. received a permit from the B.C. government to build the road, which was supposed to create access to the Tulsequah Chief mine.

The Supreme Court of Canada eventually ruled that the B.C. government did not sufficiently consult and accommodate the concerns of Taku River Tlingit members.

The court found that the Crown has a duty to seek an aboriginal group’s approval, even prior to a settled land claim, according to the website of Pape and Salter, the law firm that defended the First Nation.

Negotiations over the Taku River First Nation’s outstanding land claims have been ongoing since 1993. The federal government accepted the validity of these land claims in 1984, a summary of the case states.

An essential part of the decision was that all governments must seek the First Nation’s consent for development projects, Pape and Salter’s site states.

The Taku River Tlingit have shut down unwelcome business before, and they can do it again, Ward said.

“I expect the YTG to say we’ve been adequately consulted with and so on. And the regular things government do to us. But we know it’s not enough. We’ve been at this for a long time. We know how things work. We will not roll over for any department,” he said.

“I’m really positive, no matter what they (YTG) do, they will not be able to prove ownership to those lands. But my people can,” Ward added.

Ward attended all the proceedings for the 2004 case, he said.

He couldn’t specify the traditional uses of land in question, but said he disagrees to the mere idea of opening up their land to business.

If you have “memories of grandparents using that land, how sacred is that to you?” he asked. “It’s not the same as buying an open market property and selling it for profit. These are treaty lands. These are nation lands that go on for generations and generations. We’ll always be here,” he said.

The Supreme Court agreed with Ward’s reasoning in 2004. It deemed the road a threat to the Tlingit claim of aboriginal rights because it would become “a magnet for future development,” according to Pape and Salter’s site.

The court also recognized the First Nation’s reliance on the land to support the domestic economy and social and cultural way of life.

Such values are also what the Yukon Environmental and Socio-Economic Assessment Board considers when assessing the effects of a project, said Yeomans.

“If there’s moose, if it’s a berry-picking area, (if there’s) traditional knowledge in that area,” he said. “There’s a whole gamut of values that may be applied to the decision,” Yeomans added.

Ward said he’ll meet with the board but still wants the premier to have a conversation with him.

“These are constitutional rights we’re talking about … not something embedded in administrative law,” Ward said.

Schiman said the premier has been communicating with Ward through emails, but he is not currently planning to meet him. “We do have a consultation process underway,” she said, as Environment officials contacted the Taku River Tlingit administration since May to give them information about the project. A letter to formally consult with the First Nation was sent on Aug.20, she added.

Ward sees a meeting with the head of the government as a simple sign of respect. “We’re open to talk and like to be respected. And that’s not asking for much. And if we’re cited as a thorn in somebody’s side, we’ll take issue with that,” he said.

Ward also said the Carcross Tagish First Nation and the Teslin Tlingit First Nation support his opposition. However, the Carcross Tagish Chief, Dan Creswell, declined to comment and a spokesperson for the Teslin Tlingit did not call back before press time.

The Taku River Tlingit will do whatever it takes to protect their land, Ward said.

“I think if we went to court, it would be a slam dunk.”

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the Taku River Tlingit First Nation won a Supreme Court of Canada case to block construction of a mining road. In fact, the First Nation won a B.C. Supreme Court ruling, but the case was overturned by the Supreme Court of Canada.

 

Contact Krystle Alarcon at

krystlea@yukon-news.com

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