The Liard First Nation wants to create a small national park beside a mining project it continues to vocally oppose.
But the park proposal won’t stop the Selwyn-Chihong underground exploration project – a signal the First Nation is scrambling for ideas on how to fight it.
By creating a park, the First Nation wants to show the public it’s more environmentally savvy than the mine’s owners, Selwyn-Chihong, and the government that regulates it, said Chief Liard McMillan.
“We’re offering up this parcel as a gesture of goodwill,” he said.
McMillan wants to juxtapose the First Nation’s actions with the mining company and the regulators, who he says are creating an environmental disaster.
“We don’t want another Faro that would cost Yukoners millions of dollars,” he said.
After sending a letter to Premier Dennis Fentie and federal Environment Minister Jim Prentice last week requesting a park, McMillan wants the mining project to be put on hold.
“It’s time to step back and take stock,”
But besides embarrassing the government in public, the proposal is a toothless form of protest.
The parcel of land, known as an R-Block, is a region protected during land claim negotiations in 2002 before Liard First Nation left the table.
And it doesn’t infringe on the 7,540 hectares of Selwyn-Chihong’s property.
By donating his land for a park, McMillan wants to impress Selwyn-Chihong and the government, but the First Nation isn’t really giving up that much with the R Block.
Its tiny size, remote location and lack of mineral value make the sacrifice little more than a cultural loss.
“It’s quite pristine and has a lot of wildlife,” he said. “Our members hunt and fish up there.”
“That would be something where we’re prepared to make concessions.”
But the First Nation may not have to make cultural concessions, because McMillan expects some hunting and fishing rights for First Nations to be retained in any negotiations over the park’s creation.
The parcel is long and thin, about 50 kilometres by 12 kilometres.
It’s not your normal national park material.
McMillan didn’t know if any mineral exploration had ever taken place there.
“It would be fair to assume that given the mining development immediately next door to the R Block, the ground under the R Block would have some fair mineral potential,” he said.
The land, nestled in the Mackenzie Mountains up against the Northwest Territories’ border, is not connected to any roads.
“It’s a stone’s throw away from Selwyn,” said McMillan.
The proposal is the First Nation’s latest public attack against Selwyn-Chihong after three years of bitter bickering.
Although Liard First Nation has opposed the mine, the company, the territorial government and the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board have moved on.
And it’s not clear whether McMillan’s newest environmental one-upmanship will have any effect.
Prentice’s office did not respond by press time.
And the Yukon Environment Department has yet to process McMillan’s park proposal.
“The area has not been previously identified as a park or protected area by the Department of Environment,” said its spokesperson Nancy Campbell.
But McMillan sounded like he had all his ducks in a row.
“We’re willing to entertain discussions (over the park),” he said.
In the early days of this confrontation, McMillan and Selwyn-Chihong couldn’t agree on benefit agreements.
McMillan wants Selwyn-Chihong to pay for the First Nation’s negotiators, which the company refuses to do.
Now, McMillan is waging a vocal attack on the environmental impact of the mine.
He’s heavily critical of the assessment board, and has not involved the board in his latest salvo – the creation of the park.
“We haven’t received any direct requests from Liard First Nation asking us to do something different with regard to the latest issues that have come forward,” said board chair Stephen Mills.
The Yukon government can’t stop the assessment process at will, he added.
“We’re not government, we’re arm’s length.
“There’s not a mechanism in there to stop the projects.”
This summer, Liard First Nation hired an environmental consultant to review the assessment of the latest permit for Selwyn-Chihong.
Some of the issues raised by the consultant were used in assessment board’s final recommendation, said Mills.
In a previous interview with the News, McMillan did not mention that the consultant’s advice was used in the board’s recommendation.
In the interview, McMillan was upset about water studies that hadn’t yet been done.
While acknowledging the permit hinges on future hydro studies by Selwyn-Chihong, Mills said some work had already been submitted for the permit.
“There’s quite a bit of information that’s been submitted and there’s additional work that will be done by the company,” he said.
Mills feels the board did its job in setting standards for treating water on site and retaining wastewater from rocks.
The levels of contamination – another McMillan gripe – are set by the Yukon Water Board, said Mills.
The Liard First Nation did not participate in the latest review of the assessment board’s rules, although this was an opportunity to vocalize its views.
“It’s understandable, but it would be good if they could participate in these reviews and we could represent their interests,” said Mills.
McMillan prefers to play the media with the less-than-believable claim that his First Nation is making a massive sacrifice in order to bring Selwyn-Chihong and the government on his side.
“We’re going to keep pushing this issue as long as we can – as long as it takes,” said McMillan, who’s threatening to take the company to court if it proceeds.
Selwyn-Chihong will likely apply for its production permit in January 2011, said Mills.
Contact James Munson at