The Carcross/Tagish First Nation has filed a petition against subdividing land in their territory, in defence of the Southern Lakes Caribou herd. (Sheila Kyikavichik/Yukon News file)

The Carcross/Tagish First Nation has filed a petition against subdividing land in their territory, in defence of the Southern Lakes Caribou herd. (Sheila Kyikavichik/Yukon News file)

First Nation suing Yukon government for approving land subdivision near caribou habitat

A petition filed March 8 claims the government ignored the nation’s treaty rights to protect the area

The Carcross/Tagish First Nation (C/TFN) has filed a lawsuit against the Yukon government for approving two subdivision applications on the nation’s land.

A petition was filed to the Yukon Supreme Court on March 8.

It claims that the Yukon government failed to adequately consult the First Nation before approving the subdivisions, in conflict with the nation’s Final Agreement.

The subdivisions would split land parcels located in the Ten Mile region of Southern Lakes, located between Carcross and Tagish. The petition describes the area as a “historically, ecologically and culturally significant portion of C/TFN’s Traditional Territory.”

The Ten Mile area is critical habitat for the Southern Lakes Caribou herd, which has been slowly recovering after decades of decline, the petition says.

“This traditionally significant and resource-rich area holds a particular cultural, spiritual and economic value for the C/TFN people who are deeply committed to its preservation and opposed to any demonstrably harmful human activity or development in the area,” the petition states.

It alleges that the C/TFN has actively fought to conserve the caribou herd, while the Yukon government has failed to adopt sufficient conservation measures outside of hunting restrictions.

It continues to say that the Yukon government’s Department of Environment has indicated that densification in the area would expand human influence and damage the caribou herd. It alleges that the Yukon government “unreasonably dismissed” this when approving the subdivision applications.

The First Nation claims that the officer who approved the subdivision erroneously believed that timely and transparent consultation was required only where new development was planned, and underestimated the application’s negative impact.

The Yukon government notified the First Nation about the two applications in May and June, respectively, and granted a month to respond, the petition says. In August 2020, the C/TFN responded in opposition to the proposals.

The C/TFN alleges that the Yukon government dismissed its concerns in a Nov. 20 letter before approving the applications on Nov. 25. The C/TFN wasn’t aware of the decision until Jan. 22, at which point they were told the government “would not be able to defend denying” the applications.

The First Nation has requested that the approval be rescinded and an interim injunction be placed, pending the lawsuit’s outcome.

The petition also requests declarations that the Yukon government breached C/TFN’s Final Agreement and failed to consult properly, as well as a declaration applying restrictions against subdividing agricultural land parcels. It also seeks remuneration for the cost of the petition.

C/TFN claims that the Yukon government failed to “properly consider” rules set out in the Subdivision Act and C/TFN Final Agreement when it approved the applications, and “unreasonably undermined the adverse effects on C/TFN rights and interests.”

It continues to allege that the government failed to determine the serious impact of subdivisions and ignored the C/TFN’s treaty right to protect the area.

“This is a case in the first instance about the … duty to fulfill constitutional obligations provided for under the Yukon’s Final Agreements,” the petition says, arguing the imminent case will impact the future of reconciliation within C/TFN territory.

The three individuals who applied to subdivide their two lots have been included as defendants in the application.

Gavin Gardiner, counsel for the C/TFN, has called upon 13 letters between the parties and two affidavits from the Director of Heritage, Lands and Natural Resources and the Co-Chair of Carcross/Tagish First Nation Land Management Board.

A hearing date has not yet been set.

Contact Gabrielle Plonka at gabrielle.plonka@yukon-news.com

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