Kaska go to court as last resort

The Kaska are taking the Yukon government to court over land rights. The Northwest Territories and BC are also included in the Supreme Court proceedings that began Wednesday.

The Kaska are taking the Yukon government to court over land rights.

The Northwest Territories and BC are also included in the Supreme Court proceedings that began Wednesday.

“There is a high level of industrial activity, primarily mining and oil and gas exploration, on our lands,” said Liard First Nation Chief Liard McMillan.

“And we are getting to the point of frustration.”

There are currently more than a dozen mines proposed or approved that will directly impact Kaska lands in the Yukon and BC, including the Kutcho Creek, Selwyn and Mactung properties and the Wolverine mine. And the First Nation is concerned about the direct and cumulative effects of so much mining.

Yukon Zinc is also a worry.

The Ross River Dene have an agreement with Yukon Zinc.

“But it will be the Liard First Nation that bears the downstream brunt of this mine,” said McMillan, referencing the Francis River Watershed.

“And the trucks will be rolling through Kaska lands,” he said.

Before mines open on Kaska lands, the First Nation is often asked to do a technical review of the permit applications, but there’s never enough time, said McMillan.

And the constant flood of proposals for small and large-scale development on Kaska land is overwhelming the capacity of the First Nation.

“We get 300-to-400-page referrals that require technical reviews, and we often are given less than a week to do it,” he said.

“So it’s hard for the community to respond adequately.

“It’s frustrating.”

Denali Canada and Foothills Canada Pipelines have also proposed pipeline projects which, if approved, will run directly through the heart of Liard First Nations’ communities.

“And there is no consultation protocol in place,” said McMillan.

There is an aboriginal pipeline coalition, and it’s supposed to be a neutral, info-gathering body, he said.

“But government seems to be fobbing off responsibility and using the coalition as a de facto consultation body.”

To ensure that consultation with this coalition can’t be considered consultation with the Kaska, the Liard First Nation has withdrawn from the coalition.

But the pipeline issue pales in comparison to some of the industrial activity in BC.

Recent shale gas developments in northeastern BC could jeopardize caribou populations in the region, according to a Liard First Nation press release.

“And we have major concerns in BC because the pace of development is more rapid,” said McMillan.

The Liard First Nation is being represented by a hotshot lawfirm from Victoria, BC, that has won similar suits for First Nations in the past.

The legal actions seek a declaration of aboriginal title to the Kaska traditional territory on behalf of all Kaska First Nations and claims a broad right to harvesting activities including hunting, trapping and forest harvesting.

The Kaska may also seek legal action to halt some of the mining and industrial activity on its lands, said McMillan. “Some projects might need to be stopped.”

The Kaska Nation is made up of Liard First Nation (which includes the Daylu Dena Council), Dease River First Nation, Ross River Dena Council and Kwadacha First Nation. And Kaska traditional territory includes lands and waters in the Yukon, BC and the Northwest Territories.

“We are concerned about how things are panning out on the BC side,” said McMillan. “The treaty process in BC is moving at a rapid pace and we have very little say.”

In the Yukon, the Kaska’s land claims process has been stalled for almost 10 years.

“The court action is basically to get the courts to recognize we have title to our lands,” said McMillan.

“It could be a very long, drawn out and expensive process, but we feel we’ve got very few options.”

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