Kaska get more grants for southeast development

Over the last three years, Kaska First Nations and associated arm’s-length groups have received more than $2 million in economic development…

Over the last three years, Kaska First Nations and associated arm’s-length groups have received more than $2 million in economic development grants from the Yukon government.

That’s 33 per cent more than predicted in 2004.

And what has the government got for its money?

That’s hard to pin down.

The money was to spur oil and gas, mining and forestry projects.

But to date, there’s little noticeable advancement in any of those sectors in the southeast Yukon.

Nevertheless, territorial officials insist the money has been well spent — especially in the resource-development field.

In this 2005-’06 fiscal year, Kaska groups have received $419,000 in funding from Energy, Mines and Resources.

That brings overall spending on Kaska projects well above budget.

In 2004, government officials told The News the Kaska were to receive $1.53 million between 2003 to 2005.

In fact, they have received $2.2 million.

Of that, $1.2 million went to the Kaska Tribal Council for resource and economic development.

The remaining $955,000 went to the arm’s-length forest stewardship council.

The money is paying off, said officials in a recent interview.

 “We’re seeing results,” said Joe MacGillivray, an assistant deputy minister of Energy, Mines and Resources.

But officials were hard-pressed to come up with fresh examples.

They cited a recent Kotaneelee drilling project, but that was simply a redrilling of an existing well.

The Faro mine is being reclaimed, but that project has been underway for years.

There’s mining exploration happening 140 kilometres southeast of Ross River and officials also cited the Wolverine lead-zinc play, which has been ongoing since the 1990s.

“They’re all moving closer to production,” said Ed van Randen, policy adviser for Energy, Mines and Resources.

“They’re all still on track. They’re all still planning to, eventually, be producing minerals.”

This year, money was directed at four projects.

The Kaska Tribal Council’s forest-management committee got $20,000.

Another $32,000 went to a committee writing new, post-devolution legislation.

The Kaska Economic Table, another Kaska/Yukon group focused on creating business opportunities, received $100,000.

But the stewardship council was the big winner.

It received $267,000 to draft a forest management plan.

It’s unclear how this is different from 2004, when it received $271,000 to do a “first draft of the regional forest management plan,” which was to be finished by March 2005.

To date, nothing official has been filed by the independent council, which is made up of three Kaska members and three Yukon government representatives.

The document is supposed to outline “economic, environmental and social sustainability,” and is now expected in April.

“These are all big buzz words,” said van Randen.

Basically, it means deciding what land is available and how wood will be cut, he said.

The committee has been working on the project for three years.

“These are fundamental decisions that communities have to make,” added van Randen.

“They’re on track for the delivery of the drafts by the end of this fiscal year, is what we’re hearing,” he said.

“So, April is what we’re looking for.”

In the fall of 2004, officials told The News the government should be evaluated on how much development the funding generates in the region.

“There’s no doubt the government will be assessed on the outcome,” said unnamed sources at the time.

“If they are unable (to get development) there will be a different perspective on the budget.”

Today, 4,000 hectares of Kaska land have been approved for logging.

A few licences have been issued, but nobody has cut any wood.

“There’s really not an appetite to see much harvesting right now,” said van Randen. “The marketplace isn’t there.”

A few permits were also sold to salvage wood from areas hit by forest fire.

The trans-boundary Kaska Nation is comprised of two Yukon First Nations, the Ross River Dene Council and the Liard First Nation, as well as groups in BC and NWT.

Yukon Kaska have not signed land claim agreements, and have lawsuits pending against Ottawa that have foiled attempts to renew negotiations with federal officials.

The lack of land claims has undermined certainty in the southeast Yukon, making business wary of operating there.

To help bolster the local economy, the Yukon government has been giving the First Nations handouts, called contribution agreements.

To ensure the money is properly spent, the groups submit budgets and reports to the territory, and can be asked to undergo an audit.

The government is reluctant to make the documents public.

Copies are available only through the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act or through the First Nation itself, said Energy, Mines and Resources spokesperson Tara O’Donovan.

“They submit a budget to us every year of what they’re going to do over that year to get the plan done,” said van Randen.

The Kaska Tribal Council could not be reached for comment by press time.