First Nation sues over Atlin campground

The Taku River Tlingit First Nation has sued the Yukon government over its plans to build a campground on Atlin Lake. It's the third lawsuit announced against the territory by First Nations in less than a month.

The Taku River Tlingit First Nation has sued the Yukon government over its plans to build a campground on Atlin Lake.

It’s the third lawsuit announced against the territory by First Nations in less than a month. The other two were related to the Yukon government’s recent decision on the Peel watershed land use plan.

The Yukon government approved the Atlin campground last month, with construction scheduled to begin in the spring.

“The TRTFN has been reasonable and explored every opportunity to avoid costly litigation,” states Tuesday’s news release. “We are not opposed to campgrounds or development in our territory. However, we need to be meaningfully consulted. That means not being forced to concede the location, design, construction and management of any proposed campground.”

The proposed campground is located on the east shore of Atlin Lake, just north of the border with British Columbia.

It is within the traditional territory of the Taku River Tlingit, according to a claim that was approved by the federal government in 1984 with support of the Council of Yukon First Nations.

As a result, the First Nation has asserted rights and title to the area, and the Yukon government is legally required to consult when decisions are made about that land.

But the First Nation first heard about the planned campground when it was publicized in news reports in March of last year.

Premier Darrell Pasloski and Environment Minister Currie Dixon declined to be interviewed for this story. A spokesperson said that the government needs some time to look at the lawsuit before it will comment.

But through the controversy the Yukon government has insisted that it has met its duty to consult with the First Nation.

“It’s good spin-doctoring on their part but I don’t think it’s going to work,” said John Ward, spokesperson for the Taku River Tlingit, in an interview Tuesday.

“Despite the TRTFN’s best efforts to find a reasonable solution, the Yukon government has chosen a path of confrontation over co-operation,” states the news release. “The TRTFN and a growing number of Yukon First Nations are now being forced to take the government to court to protect constitutionally enshrined rights.”

The First Nation says it wants to engage with the Yukon government towards settling a land claim in the area.

The area where the campground is to be built is a valuable land parcel that the First Nation would consider an important potential land selection, according to the statement of claim filed in Yukon Supreme Court yesterday.

“The Atlin Lake campground decision exacerbates a series of land decisions undertaken unilaterally by YG in TRTFN traditional territory,” states the release. “YG has been recording mineral claims, granting land, creating parks, settling land claims and is now trying to create a campground in our unsurrendered traditional territory without meaningfully consulting or accommodating the TRTFN. These are substantial, cumulative alienations of our land that pre-empt the honourable settlement of the TRTFN’s transboundary claim in the Yukon.”

The lawsuit asks the court to demand the government properly consult and accommodate the Taku River Tlingit on the proposed campground.

It also asks for the same considerations recently granted to the Ross River Dena Council by the Yukon Court of Appeal.

That court found that the government must consult and accommodate the First Nation before mining claims are staked and before exploration activities take place on its traditional territory.

While there is likely no legal reason why the same would not apply outside of Ross River territory, the government has told other First Nations demanding the same treatment that they must wait their turn.

A staking ban is in place in Ross River territory until the end of April.

This new case involving the Taku River Tlingit could force the government to act sooner on applying the outcome of the Ross River case in a broader way.

Stephen Walsh is the Taku River Tlingit’s lawyer. He also represented the Ross River Dena Council through its legal action.

The Yukon government has three weeks to respond to the suit. A case management conference has been scheduled for March 11.

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at

jronson@yukon-news.com

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