Kwanlin Dün First Nation and the Ta’an Kwäch’än Council are asking people to refrain from using their settlement lands, and to be respectful when they do, after seeing degradation to cultural and natural resources.
The First Nations said in a joint press release July 11 that while their lands have seen a gradual increase in recreational activity over the years, the situation has been exacerbated by COVID-19 restrictions.
KDFN has about 1,000 square kilometres of settlement land in the Whitehorse area while TKC has about 800. The lands stem from the First Nations’ final and self-government agreements, which include rights for them to manage the areas.
“We respect everyone’s desire to enjoy all that the Yukon has to offer. But we are concerned that increased use of these lands for recreational pursuits is having a negative impact,” TKC Chief Kristina Kane said in the press release.
“The cumulative effects and impacts facing these sites is challenging and can take years to reverse.”
KDFN Chief Doris Bill said in the same press release that protecting and preserving lands and heritage sites for future generations was a key priority, and that the First Nation would be increasing patrols and community engagement “to increase awareness of provisions made in our agreements and our values of conservation of resources and respect for the land.”
Neither chief was available for comment before press time.
However, KDFN’s lands operations manager Brandy Mayes said in an interview July 15 that the First Nation has seen more people out on settlement lands than ever before.
“Normally, people would be at more events, gatherings … but because of the restrictions of COVID, we have more people on the land,” she said, adding that there was a heightened concern with Americans passing through and British Columbia residents allowed into the Yukon.
“This is the most we’ve ever seen on our lands because that’s what people are allowed to do, to get out and get fresh air and camp and hike and you know, take advantage of this beautiful country that we live in. However, it has some impacts on our lands.”
Among the issues KDFN has encountered are an increase in littering, including human and pet waste, the unauthorized building of structures and trails and campfires left burning, according to Mayes, who recalled an incident where “party-goers” set a tree on fire in the Fish Lake area near a residence. There’s also been cases of vandalism or unapproved use of fishing, hunting and trapping cabins.
“For example, we’ve had some fish camps that have stood for years and are now piles of rubble. They belonged to our ancestors and we’ve passed down from generation to generation,” she said.
As well, off-road vehicles are being driven into sensitive areas like the alpine or through marshes and wetlands, destroying vegetation and disturbing animal habitats.
Mayes said there was a “general lack of awareness” from both new-to-the-Yukon and long-term residents about Yukon First Nations’ agreements, and encouraged people to do research on them and contact KDFN with questions.
She also encouraged people to find areas outside of KDFN settlement lands to do recreational activities, and, when on the land, to follow established trails, pack out anything they bring in and to stay a respectful distance from wildlife.
“If people have a choice, we’re just asking that they refrain from using some of these areas and give the land a rest,” Mayes said. “We’ve never seen this amount of people out on the land and using it, and if they have a choice, just give (the land) a cooling time. And we don’t want to prohibit people, but at the same time, we need our land to take a rest and take a break.”
Contact Jackie Hong at firstname.lastname@example.org