Kaska leaders are meeting this week to consider a ban on mining and mineral exploration in their traditional territory.
The ban could include a blockade on the North Canol Road.
The announcement is in response to the “ongoing reckless behaviour of the Yukon government,” said Chief Liard McMillan of the Liard First Nation.
The First Nation announced in September that it would ban oil and gas development in their traditional territory until they were able to come to an understanding with the government on certain pressing issues.
The Liard First Nation, along with Yukon’s other two unsigned First Nations, currently hold a veto power over oil and gas development in their lands.
The Yukon government has tabled amendments to the Oil and Gas Act that would revoke this power.
The government argues that the consent clause was put in place under the assumption that all First Nations would sign a land claims agreement, and the three unsigned First Nations have shown no intention of doing so.
The Kaska, on the other hand, argue that consent for oil and gas projects was needed for the Yukon to gain control over development in the territory, and their right to that veto is enshrined in a binding 1997 agreement.
“(The government) should be pulling out all stops to sit down and engage with us on these issues directly and try and work through them co-operatively and collaboratively, rather than in a confrontational and adversarial fashion,” said McMillan. “Right now all I’m seeing is reckless and bullyish behaviour.”
Kaska leaders have chosen to ramp up pressure on the government to come to the table as mining and exploration companies are meeting in Whitehorse for the Yukon Geoscience Forum.
If the Kaska leaders go ahead with banning all mineral exploration, it could have immediate implications for industry.
In particular, a blockade on the North Canol could impact North American Tungsten’s Mactung project, currently under regulatory review and scheduled to go into production as early as 2014 if licences and financing can be secured.
“If I was a mining company, I would think twice about investing in the Yukon,” said McMillan.
However, the Kaska take issue mainly with the government, and not with industry, he said.
The Kaska will honour all existing agreements with exploration and mining companies, and hope that industry will continue to engage in talks with the First Nations, said McMillan.
He listed Yukon Zinc, Yukon Nevada Gold and Silvercorp as examples of companies the Kaska have had a positive working relationship with.
Leaders from the Kaska Nation, including representatives from the Liard First Nation, the Ross River Dena Council and the Kaska Dena Council, meet in Vancouver this week to consider these and other actions.
“Right now I see the government is just bound and determined, come hell or high water, to carry out its agenda to have shale gas development and fracking occur in the Yukon,” said McMillan.
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