Math’ieya Alatini, from left, Doug Eaton and Angus Robertson, members of an independent panel tasked with engaging Yukoners in order to develop a new mining strategy, met in Whitehorse on Sept. 19. (Julien Gignac/Yukon News)

Independent panel starts work on new mineral strategy

‘It’s a totally unique process’

That all 11 self-governing First Nations are to be intricately involved in a new mineral strategy has not occurred before in the territory, according to Angus Robertson, the chair of an independent panel tasked with engaging Yukoners about the matter.

“It’s a totally unique process,” he said, noting that a similar one happened in 2015 but it was “very government-driven.”

“It didn’t connect to communities to the extent it should have. I would say that was a shortfall, and by same token did not have First Nations participation on the panel.”

The change was spurred by a memorandum of understanding signed in 2017 between Yukon and First Nations governments.

Math’ieya Alatini, one of three panel members, is the former chief of Kluane First Nation.

A pre-engagement period began Sept. 19. Panel members want to ask Yukoners how they wish to engage and which issues matter to them most.

The end goal is a potential overhaul of the system — to streamline the process in some instances, create “more certainty.”

Specifics are few and far between when it comes to particular issues the panel is going to tackle and how. It’s early days. But they want to keep the process as open as possible, they said.

And it is, by all accounts, going to be broad, according to Doug Eaton, another panel member.

“We’re to look at every aspect of how the mining industry impacts on society, how it impacts on the environment and how we can maximize the benefit the Yukoners. To do that we first need to understand what Yukoners want,” he said.

Socio-economic matters — housing, for instance – will be focused on, along with training and education.

“We’re even open to correcting preconceptions people have about the mining industry,” Eaton said.

Bottom line, Yukoners want more certainty when it comes to future mining developments in the territory, Alatini said.

“I hear a lot (that) it needs to be fair, it needs to be consistent, transparent, not cumbersome,” she said. “It’s so cumbersome sometimes to put applications in and have them go through the process. From a First Nations’ perspective, having to review the same submission two or three times, it seems like a waste of resources.”

Asked whether an objective is to get mines up-and-running quicker then, Eaton said it’s more to establish a “holistic review” of future projects.

“An outcome might be that they’re faster, but it doesn’t necessarily say that every project is going to proceed. The industry needs to know where you can develop mines. It needs to start early. You need to talk to the people who are living there.”

If, say, there’s a sensitive environmental region, miners need to know the answer is no, to not waste time and eat up resources doing so, he added.

“Right now, the panel’s job is to listen, hopefully hear problems that people have experienced or feel they could be addressed, bring ideas forward for us to mull over and chew on and, hopefully as a group, come up with some fairly creative ideas to put in front of the governments,” Robertson said.

The pre-engagement process is slated to be complete by the end of November. Engagement and public comment periods are to follow. Recommendations are to be provided to Yukon and First Nations governments in early 2021.

Contact Julien Gignac at julien.gignac@yukon-news.com

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