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First Nations to lose veto over oil and gas

The Yukon government is moving to strip some First Nations of their veto power over oil and gas developments. These powers are currently held by the territory's three First Nations without land claim agreements.

The Yukon government is moving to strip some First Nations of their veto power over oil and gas developments.

These powers are currently held by the territory’s three First Nations without land claim agreements: the Liard First Nation, Ross River Dena Council and White River First Nation.

The chief of the Liard First Nation, Liard McMillan, announced last month that he would use the veto to block any future development in southeastern Yukon until the territory discussed a number of issues that have gone sour, including the management of the Faro mine cleanup project.

In an Oct. 15 letter to McMillan, Resources Minister Brad Cathers says the government is “considering tabling” the changes in the legislative assembly this fall.

The veto power was included in the act because of ongoing land claim negotiations, the letter states. Because the three unsigned First Nations have made it clear they do not wish to settle a land claim, the clause is being removed, said Cathers.

This is not true, McMillan said in an interview on Thursday. First Nations negotiated the clause as a condition of devolution, he said.

The decision to remove it is a way the government “can penalize us for not signing,” McMillan said.

The territory is also using a “divide and conquer” tactic to pit signed and unsigned First Nations against each other, he added.

If the veto power remained, First Nations with final agreements would lose out on “unrealized royalties,” Cathers’ letter says.

The only oil and gas project in Yukon is the Kotaneelee oil fields in southeastern Yukon. Production has slumped significantly since 2005. But the fields have provided $10.46 million in shared royalties among the 11 signed First Nations, Cathers’ letter notes.

“Without new development, royalties from southeast Yukon projects are likely to end, and there is a risk that existing infrastructure in this area will be decommissioned and removed,” Cathers’ letter says.

Because the Kaska don’t have a land claim agreement, they haven’t benefitted much from the Kotaneelee, despite the project being on their traditional territory.

Apart from a “one-time payment” for a “couple hundred thousand dollars back in the mid- to late-90s,” the Kaska “haven’t received a nickel,” said McMillan.

Cathers’ talk of lost royalties for signed First Nations is “probably trying to get the other Yukon First Nations angered or disenchanted with the Kaska because we haven’t signed,” he said.

But First Nations did stand united in 2009.

Consultation on the changes to the Oil and Gas Act stretched for six weeks in July and August of that year, according to the NDP Opposition. The government only received 16 submissions, nine of which were from First Nations that all opposed the removal of the consent clause, says the NDP.

The idea of removing the veto was first discussed in 2009. But, during the talks underway, McMillan’s First Nation only has until Oct. 29 to comment on the government’s plans. There is no way that consultation can be considered sufficient, the Kaska chief said.

And these changes are at odds with legally-binding agreements with all Yukon First Nations, and the Kaska in particular, McMillan added.

“Last but not least, the Yukon government has decided to do fracking,” McMillan asserted. “They decided not to do oil and gas up in the Whitehorse trough but now they want to turn the southeast Yukon into a toilet bowl. There’s fracking just across the border in northern British Columbia.”

The NDP, which was given a copy of Cathers’ letter this week, is concerned that the territory’s proposed changes to oil and gas laws don’t mention anything about hydraulic fracturing.

NDP resources critic Jim Tredger calls the move “a slap in the face.”

“This is a wonderful opportunity, with the interest that’s been shown, to have a full discussion and come up with some creative solutions so people feel confident that with the development, their land, their water, their lifestyle will be protected,” he said. “It’s reminiscent of the Peel; just ignoring convention and rules and opinions of people.”

In the legislative assembly in April, Cathers promised to “continue to engage with the public,” when Tredger asked him about possible changes to oil and gas laws.

“If we make changes to regulations in the future, I anticipate that there will be further public consultation,” Cathers said then.

Cathers couldn’t be reached before press time. He declined to speak to the News in September when McMillan announced the Liard First Nation would veto oil and gas work on its land.

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at