The government says White River First Nation will have to wait its turn for any changes to staking and exploration rules on traditional territory.
The First Nation issued a statement earlier this week demanding an immediate staking ban on its territory like what’s currently in place for the Ross River Dena Council’s land after a long legal battle.
They insist that as another unsigned First Nation in the Yukon, they are entitled to the same considerations outlined by the Yukon Court of Appeal in late 2012.
In that decision, the court found the Yukon government had infringed on the rights of the Ross River Dena Council by allowing staking and Class 1 exploration in the First Nation’s traditional territory without notification or accommodation.
It also ruled the government must consult with the Ross River Dena Council to determine if certain areas of the traditional territory should be withdrawn from staking completely.
In an interview yesterday, Dermot Flynn, with the executive council’s aboriginal relations division, said the government is still working to meet its requirements to the Ross River Dena Council. He said that needs to be complete before turning government attention to White River First Nation.
At the last sitting of the legislature for 2013, the government passed amendments to the Quartz Mining Act and Placer Mining Act and the associated regulations.
Those changes allow the government to designate areas that require consultation for Class 1 work. As of right now, changes have only been made relating to Ross River land – the land that was the subject of the lawsuit.
However, the required discussions around a staking withdrawal were not completed in time for the court’s December 2013 deadline. The government issued a four-month ban on staking in the area, until the end of April, so the details could be worked out.
Flynn said the government informed the White River First Nation in a letter in November that consultation with Ross River had to be completed before anything else could begin. With the staking ban in place in Ross River, the consultation work is not done, he said.
“That four month period will give us an opportunity to complete our consultation with Ross River Dena Council, and as we said to White River, once we finish that task we will then move to consult with them.”
Flynn said the government would not be issuing a staking ban on White River land.
“At this stage, we are not going to do that,” he said.
“I know that White River feels that the circumstances of Ross River are essentially the same for them, but there are some differences. So we can’t just take the outcome of one court case and apply it to a different fact situation.”
In their statement, the White River First Nation Chief Charles Elkland Jr. said: “The Ross River Dena Council case decision that found that ‘free entry’ mining system was a breach of aboriginal rights clearly applies to White River First Nation territory and is a call to action to the Pasloski government.”
Flynn insists there are significant differences between the two First Nations.
“The primary example is that White River has a 100 per cent overlap with the traditional territory of Kluane First Nation, which does have a final agreement in place,” he said.
“So it’s a much different circumstance. In the course of our consultation with White River, we’ll certainly have to have conversations with them about that aspect of the situation.”
As for whether regulations surrounding Class 1 work could be expanded to include White River First Nation land, Flynn said he suspects discussions around that will also occur.
In its statement, the White River First Nation threatened legal action against “any activities that take place without proper consultation with White River First Nation.”
Flynn said he could not comment on that possibility.
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