Cutting a survey swath across Carcross/Tagish First Nation’s land, through sensitive caribou calving grounds was a mistake, says Community Services minister Glenn Hart.
“It was not our intent to cross the First Nation land, or trespass,” said Hart in Question Period on Tuesday.
“Our intent was to go beside the area in question. We proceeded based on the survey of the site.”
The survey line was cut by a contractor, added Hart.
“And they went outside the line. So, was I aware? No.”
But this did not satisfy Liberal MLA Eric Fairclough.
“It has been a known fact for many years that the (Southern Lakes) caribou graze and raise their young in this very area,” he said.
“However, what’s more astounding is that permission was never asked for before going ahead and cutting down trees. Had that been done, this serious infringement on the herd’s summer calving ground would never have taken place.”
The First Nation originally wanted this calving ground to be a special management area, but the government gave assurances this was not necessary during land claim negotiations.
“YTG said, ‘No, you don’t need to do that; we’ll respect that and we won’t develop in there; we’ll preserve that for caribou and moose,’” said Carcross/Tagish land-use team chair Patrick James.
“As a result, the First Nations backed off on the SMA and on putting any selections in that area.
“And, lo and behold, less than 30 days after our effective date they were already cutting in there.”
This is no way to build trust, said Fairclough.
“It’s well known that the sensitivity of this land was a concern. One remark attributed to an engineer was, ‘We thought we did you a favour.’
“Well, that is not how you do favours for people — by going on their land without permission and cutting down trees.”
Fairclough asked Hart if an apology had been issued to the First Nation for the government’s glaring mistake.
“We have been in contact with the Carcross/Tagish First Nation on this matter, and it is currently before our department responsible for land claims, and we are working through that department to address the situation,” said Hart.
Through its actions, this government is causing friction with First Nation governments, added New Democrat MLA Steve Cardiff.
“Once again, this government is barging ahead without adequately consulting the people who live in the area or who own the land.
“Once again, it is playing the bully and telling First Nations that it is our way or the highway.”
The government was surveying for an egress road that would offer Taku subdivision residents an alternate escape route in case of fire.
There is currently only one road into the community.
“However, the point has been made that, due to prevailing winds, this (new emergency road) was not the logical route at all,” said Fairclough.
“It was, however, the shortest and presumably the cheapest. So can the minister explain why the route being taken was not one that would provide safety in case of an emergency?”
Hart did not respond.
The new road would run south from the subdivision, but prevailing winds in the summer are southerly, so the escape route would be the first to be consumed by fire, said both James and Tagish advisory committee chair Ethel Tizya.
The location makes no sense, said Cardiff.
“Will (Hart) make a commitment to go back up to the drawing board, do a proper consultation and come up with a proposal that meets the needs of area residents and doesn’t have a negative impact on the Southern Lakes caribou herd?”
“We are working with the First Nation through the land claims implementation secretariat on this particular issue and we hope to get to an amenable solution for both parties,” said Hart.