The Yukon government and self-governing First Nations have signed an agreement to improve communication around mining in the Yukon.
They have also established a regular working group and a work plan to help guide discussions.
The agreement was announced at the 2016 Mineral Exploration Roundup in Vancouver this week.
“This protocol can lead us to a new and more productive way of engaging on mining-related initiatives,” Premier Darrell Pasloski said in a news release.
According to the protocol, the government and First Nations will work together to review mining-related legislation and to resolve issues that arise due to mining activity on settlement land or traditional territory.
Together, they may recommend changes to legislation, policy or regulations.
“I think it’s more of a positive step,” Grand Chief Ruth Massie of the Council of Yukon First Nations told the News on Thursday. “We’ve been telling the government all along, it’s all about the communication. They need to know what our position is, we need to know what their position is.”
Massie said the protocol will help ensure that First Nations are kept in the loop on any changes that may affect their land.
That hasn’t always been the case, she said, referring to changes made to consultation requirements for low-level mineral exploration in 2014.
When the Yukon government first announced the proposed changes, it suggested that First Nations would be notified of all such activity. The plan was later scaled back to include only certain areas of the territory. First Nations complained that they weren’t given enough time to review those changes.
But Massie is optimistic that this protocol may signal better days ahead.
“It engages everybody, all the parties, to be involved in potential projects.”
She said it will also help industry understand how to comply with First Nation agreements.
The protocol has been some time in the making, however. Pasloski signed it back in August 2015. The chiefs of most self-governing First Nations signed on gradually between August and the end of October.
Ta’an Kwach’an Council Chief Kristina Kane is still in the process of signing. And Carcross/Tagish Chief Danny Cresswell has not signed, but his First Nation will participate in the working group as an observer.
“Some of them signed it a little bit reluctantly,” Massie said, owing to concerns that the government doesn’t always “walk their talk.”
Still, she said, the protocol may help prevent future lawsuits between First Nations and the Yukon government.
“We didn’t negotiate our (final) agreements to be in court.”