Government doles out land, Ta’an threatens lawsuit

The Ta’an Kwach’an Council’s traditional territory is under siege, and chief Ruth Massie is placing the blame squarely on Premier…

The Ta’an Kwach’an Council’s traditional territory is under siege, and chief Ruth Massie is placing the blame squarely on Premier Dennis Fentie.

Several land applications on Ta’an territory advanced through the territorial bureaucracy in 2004, despite opposition from the First Nation.

“Over the past few years, your government has supported various land applications … in our traditional territory without any meaningful consultation with the TKC and resolution of our concerns,” Massie told Fentie in a January 9 letter.

“It has become apparent that your government and its officials are committed to push through various land applications of third parties despite the substantive environmental and socioeconomic concerns of the TKC and other individuals and organizations, including the Laberge Renewable Resources Council.

“These actions erode any good faith that may be developing between us and the Yukon government and only serve to undermine our relationship.

“As a result, we are prepared to take the steps necessary, including the commencement of court action, to ensure that the lands and resources of our traditional territory are managed and developed in a responsible manner.”

There are four outstanding applications for agricultural land involving Ta’an territory.

Three of them come from Len Walchuk and Karla DesRosiers, two part-time farmers seeking to expand the DesRosiers family farm in the Shallow Bay area near the southwestern shores of Lake Laberge.

Walchuk and DesRosiers applied in 2004 to have a grazing lease divided into three land parcels and converted into farmland, which would add 132 hectares to the existing Laberge Ranch and Outfitters Ltd.

But the grazing lease is on land included in the Ta’an’s land claim settlement.

“This area is the cultural and geographic centre for the Ta’an Kwach’an,” said Massie.

“We have historically used and occcupied this area as it is a rich harvesting area for fish and waterfowl.”

In an April 6, 2004 memo obtained by The News, the Yukon government’s executive council office asked the agriculture branch to maintain the grazing lease until 2019.

“Public access until December 31, 2019, was communicated to Ta’an in 1996 and with that communication Ta’an Kwach’an Council reduced their land selections in the area and agreed to third-party interests on their identified land set aside,” Lynn Black, an implementation policy analyst with the Yukon land claims and implementation secretariat, said in the 2004 letter.

“Further, given the sensitive ecology of the lakeshore and creek running through the area, if (the grazing lease) is not required for grazing, perhaps the parcel should be removed from the agriculture program.”

The Ta’an opposed one of the applications as it went through the land application review committee process, and refused to meet with the proponents or government officials to discuss a compromise.

The review committee recommended rejecting the proposal, but assistant deputy resources minister Greg Komaromi set the recommendation aside and approved the application, saying it allowed for adequate setbacks and did not limit public access to Shallow Bay.

In her letter to Fentie, Massie alleges “political interference.”

She noted that the proponents asked Resources minister Archie Lang for help and cited documents passed within the agriculture branch that claim “direction from upper management” to move the application forward.

“In our view, it appears that your government was prepared to disregard due process, breach the land disposition rules, overlook its lawful obligations and marginalize the concerns of the TKC and others in order to fast-track the approval” of the application, Massie told Fentie.

However, the same can’t be said for the two other applications from Walchuk and DesRosiers, both of which must go through the new Yukon Environmental and Socioeconomic Assessment Act process instead of the land application review committee process.

So must an application for 65 hectares of agricultural land west of Flat Creek near Whitehorse that was filed in December 2004 by a numbered company (37922 Yukon Inc.), which is controlled by local game farmer Bill Drury.

Drury’s application doesn’t overlap Ta’an lands, which border the eastern banks of Flat Creek.

But the application does infringe on a wilderness corridor along Flat Creek and will have to be modified to allow for a setback.

The Ta’an is “wholly opposed” to Drury’s application, as well as any other applications or initiatives that are happening without “collaborative assessment and planning” between the government and affected First Nations.

Which means the Ta’an also opposes proposed changes to the Ibex Valley development plan and the proposed Grizzly Valley subdivision plan, said Massie.

“Notwithstanding your platitudes that your government is committed to work collaboratively with Yukon First Nations in a respectful manner based on a government-to-government relationship, the actions of your government illustrate intentions otherwise,” she said.

“You are not willing to listen to our concerns. You are certainly not working with us.”

Fentie wasn’t willing to respond to Massie’s letter in an interview.

“I certainly will be responding, and there’s not much more I can say on the matter,” he said Thursday.

“This was an existing third-party interest, this particular land base. This isn’t allocation of new land to someone or anything else.”

Massie concluded her letter with a specific threat to sue the government over the approved Shallow Bay application.

“It appears that the priority for your government is to expedite the ‘land-grabs’ initiated by its friends and supporters rather than working with us,” she said.

“You disappoint us, but we should not be surprised. The actions of your government have been shameful.

“Over the past year, your government has supported the Yukon Agricultural Association’s proposed fairgrounds and facilitated various land applications … made by third parties within our traditional territory.

“We are now prepared to commence court action with respect to the approval of application 786 in order to protect our interests and ensure that the Yukon government adheres to its rules of due process and fulfills its lawful obligations to consult with Yukon First Nations.”