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First Nation sues Yukon government over mining approval

The First Nation of Na-Cho Nyäk Dun is contesting mineral exploration in the Tsé Tagé watershed
The First Nation of Na-Cho Nyak Dun is suing the Yukon government over mining in its traditional territory. (First Nation of Na-Cho Nyak Dun/Facebook)

The First Nation of Na-Cho Nyäk Dun (FNNND) is suing the Yukon government for approving mining activity in its traditional territory.

The government authorized advanced mineral exploration in the Tsé Tagé (Beaver River) watershed on Feb. 19. The work was granted to Metallic Minerals Corp., a Vancouver-based exploration company.

The First Nation unanimously agreed to pursue legal action against the decision at its general meeting on Feb. 27, the nation said in a press release.

“A land use planning process is currently underway for the Tsé Tagé watershed, and this disrespectful decision by the Yukon government undermines that plan before it can even be completed and before we’ve even seen a draft plan,” said Chief Simon Mervyn in a statement.

“We had hoped — and expected — that the treaty promises made to us would be lived up to and we will not stand silently by as they continue to trample on our values, our land and our rights.

“We have been waiting for more than 25 years for land use planning and real joint decision making. We won’t wait any longer.”

Exploration permit contrary to land planning process, FN says

The First Nation filed a petition to the Yukon Supreme Court on March 15.

The petition states that the nation was promised a collaborative land use plan at the signing of its Final Agreement in 1993. With the exception of small portions of territory included in the Peel and Dawson Land Use Planning processes, land planning has not begun, in spite of the nation’s best efforts, the petition says.

“Yukon has preferred to maintain the status quo, through which it believes it is afforded near total decision-making power over development in the NND Traditional Territory,” the petition says.

Land use planning for the Tsé Tagé watershed, called the Beaver River Land Use Plan, was initiated in January 2018 through an intergovernmental agreement, but has not yet been put into place.

The First Nation argues that the Metallic Minerals approval has rendered the forthcoming Beaver River plan meaningless and undermined the First Nation’s right to proper consultation.

Mineral excavation would affect wildlife and heritage, YESAB says

Metallic Minerals’ application involves its 52 quartz claims approximately 64 kilometre north of Keno. The claims were staked in 2018 and 2019.

The application seeks permission to construct roads and clearings in its claims to support mapping, soil sampling and excavation. It acknowledges that the work “might have significant environmental or socio-economic effects” on the nation’s traditional territory.

The Yukon Environmental and Socio-Economic Assessment Board (YESAB) issued an evaluation report finding the proposed work would adversely affect local wildlife, habitats, environmental and heritage resources. The work would particularly affect Thinhorn sheep, whose lambing area overlaps with the project.

The First Nation was then asked to comment on the application. In August 2020, Chief Mervyn wrote that a decision shouldn’t be issued until the Beaver River planning process was completed.

Sarah Paschuk, a representative of the Yukon’s chief of mining land use, responded that Final Agreements “do not contemplate the cessation of all development activities until land use plans are complete.” She continued to say that the government must balance both conservation and development interests.

After several months of written correspondence, the First Nation was informed that in-person consultation wouldn’t be feasible.

First Nation claims decision breaches treaty obligations

The petition alleges that the Yukon government failed to properly consult the nation before approving Metallic Minerals’ application.

It continues that the government “failed to act honestly and in good faith” to its obligations set out in the intergovernmental agreement and pending land use plan.

“The decision is also unreasonable, on the basis that it is not justifiable, intelligible, or transparent,” the petition says.

The petition seeks a declaration that the government breached its duties. It also seeks that the government and Metallic Minerals be prohibited from conducting any work in the region pending the legal process.

The petition additionally seeks remuneration for the cost of legal proceedings.

Correction: an earlier version of this article erroneously called Sarah Paschuk the Yukon’s chief of mining land use. She is a representative of that office.

Contact Gabrielle Plonka at