Kaska join Yukon’s lawsuit pileup

The Yukon government is facing yet another First Nation lawsuit.

The Yukon government is facing yet another First Nation lawsuit.

The territory must consult the Kaska Dena Council before recording mineral claims and allowing exploration activities on its traditional territory, according to a statement of claim filed in Yukon Supreme Court Wednesday.

The Kaska Dena Council is based in Lower Post and represents the B.C-based Kaska nations.

Kaska Dena traditional territory covers 240,000 square kilometres in Yukon, B.C. and N.W.T.

In 2012 the Yukon Court of Appeal found that the Yukon government must consult with the Ross River Dena Council before mining claims are recorded in its traditional territory and before low-level exploration work occurs on those lands.

Currently there is a staking ban on the northern portions of Kaska territory – around Ross River – while the government consults with the Ross River Dena Council. That ban is set to expire April 30, and so far there is no word on how negotiations are going.

The court also ruled that the First Nation must be consulted before any Class 1 exploration activities can go ahead in the Ross River area. Class 1 is the lowest level of exploration, and can include activities such as clearing trees, building trails, digging up rock and the use of explosives.

But those protections only exist in northern portions of Kaska Dena territory, because the 2012 court decision applied specifically to the Ross River Dena Council.

While there is likely no legal reason that the decision would not apply to other First Nations – particular those without a final land claims agreement – the government has told others they must wait their turn.

The Kaska Dena Council wrote Premier Darrell Pasloski in August and again in September asking to be consulted on proposed changes to the Class 1 exploration regime.

“If your government continues to refuse to honour its duty to consult with the Kaska Dena Council, we intend to turn to the Yukon Supreme Court to vindicate our rights. However, we very much hope that it does not come to that,” wrote council chair George Miller in both letters.

In January Kaska First Nations and the White River First Nations issued a joint news release asking for the Ross River decision to be applied to all Kaska and White River territory in the Yukon.

The Taku River Tlingit First Nation, based in Atlin, B.C., sued the Yukon government in February, asking for the concessions from the Ross River case to be extended to Yukon portions of its territory. That lawsuit also called on the territorial government to cancel plans to build a campground on Atlin Lake until the First Nation had been consulted adequately.

The Yukon government’s new plan for the Peel watershed is also before Yukon Supreme Court. The Tr’ondek Hwech’in and the First Nation of Nacho Nyak Dun have sued over that plan, which sees 71 per cent of the watershed open for new mineral staking.

Premier Darrell Pasloski declined to comment on this article and the Kaska Dena Council did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at

jronson@yukon-news.com

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