The Yukon government has issued a 90-day ban on new staking in a southern swath of Kaska territory.
The Feb. 1 ban, combined with others that are already in place, means more than half of the Yukon is currently withdrawn from new staking, including all of the Kaska’s traditional territory in the Yukon.
The government is still trying to negotiate an agreement with the Kaska First Nations over exploration on their traditional territory.
A court-imposed deadline of Jan. 31 passed and a deal hadn’t been reached, said Yukon’s Energy, Mines and Resources Minister Ranj Pillai. That led to the ban.
“We’ve got 90 days now to continue conversation,” he said. “Do I think we’re going to get to a resolution in 90 days? I absolutely have no idea … I hope we can work through it. We’re committed to getting to the table and to coming up with a solution.”
The 90-day ban is the second staking ban to be signed in less than a month. In late January the Yukon government extended a long-standing ban covering the rest of the Kaska territory known as the Ross River area. It will continue until Jan. 31, 2018.
Both cases deal with essentially the same issues, which date back to 2012.
That’s when the Ross River Dena Council won a court battle forcing the government to notify, consult and accommodate the First Nation before allowing any mining exploration activities to take place within the Ross River area.
The two sides have been negotiating what that will look like ever since. But until the details are worked out, the staking ban in the Ross River area has stayed in place.
In 2014 the Kaska Dena Council filed a lawsuit asking for the same consideration for the remaining Kaska traditional territory in Yukon.
The government agreed, but those court declarations were put on hold until Jan. 31, and the government continued issuing claims.
Meanwhile three mineral agreements (one each with Ross River Dena Council, Liard First Nation and Kaska Dena Council) were signed “that outlined a process to continue discussions on the implementation of these declarations,” according to a Yukon government statement.
Those agreements are confidential, the government says. They also expired Jan. 31.
According to Pillai, the Yukon government wanted to extend the mineral agreements and the Kaska “wanted more.”
The minister said he couldn’t go into detail.
He said the government received a letter from Kaska leadership calling for a moratorium if no agreement was reached.
“We tried, it came down to minutes and we didn’t feel what they tabled was fair to Yukoners and we sadly had to put a moratorium in place.”
The latest staking ban on Kaska territory covers 10 per cent of the Yukon, according to the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources.
In the new area there are 6,711 quartz claims by 52 claim holders and 26 placer claims by 18 claim holders, spokesperson Sue Thomas said.
That area, combined with the original Ross River area ban, the ban in the Peel watershed, and permanent bans like those covering municipalities and national parks, mean 52 per cent of the territory is presently withdrawn from staking, Thomas said.
The minister acknowledged the situation is frustrating, particularly for the territory’s prospectors.
“The amount of land they have to explore just continues and continues and continues to diminish. It’s extremely frustrating to them,” he said.
Existing claims and mining activities on those claims are not affected by the latest staking prohibition.
In these latest negotiations, Pillai said, one of the biggest challenges is that Kaska traditional territory overlaps with other First Nations.
“They want Kaska consent, which means they want complete aboriginal rights and title to their total Kaska traditional territory,” Pillai said.
Portions of the Kaska traditional territory overlap with four self-governing First Nations’ territory, he said.
If the Kaska get complete consent, those four First Nations could end up with land where “essentially, the Kaska would have control over some of their category A and B lands,” Pillai said.
“The complexity of what we’re dealing with is huge.”
To make it even more complex, the territory needs to consider transboundary concerns with two other First Nations including the Acho Dene Koe First Nation, which has land in the Northwest Territories, northern British Columbia and southeastern Yukon.
Pillai made similar statements about the Kaska’s desire for consent to the CBC following the announcement of the ban.
Representatives for the Kaska Dena Council are now accusing the minister of violating the confidentiality agreement that goes along with the negotiations.
“He was discussing what the Kaska’s bargaining positions are on CBC radio this morning and that’s a clear violation of the confidentiality agreement that we entered into,” lawyer Stephen Walsh said.
Walsh said his clients haven’t discussed what the potential consequences could be for the alleged violation.
Kaska Dena Council chair George Miller confirmed the First Nation’s position regarding Pillai violating the confidentiality agreement but said he wouldn’t be making any other comments about the negotiations for now.
Contact Ashley Joannou at firstname.lastname@example.org