The Yukon government has failed to act on a 12-year-old promise to update mining legislation, according to the Tr’ondek Hwech’in First Nation.
“We’ve been asking for the mining reform for a long time,” said deputy chief Clara Van Bibber.
A 2001 promise to modernize the rules for mineral exploration, production and reclamation was key to Yukon First Nations’ support of devolution, said Van Bibber.
Now the territory is in a position where mining laws often conflict with First Nation agreements, she said.
The result is that conflicts over resources often end up in court, said Van Bibber.
“We don’t want to see more court cases, and to us it’s better to fix the problem than to go that route. Nobody likes to go to court at any time.”
The Yukon government has recently agreed to revise rules for Class 1 exploration programs.
That move came in response to a court battle between the territory and the Ross River Dena Council.
The Court of Appeal found that allowing Class 1 exploration programs to go forward without notifying or consulting First Nations could infringe on their rights.
The Yukon government accepted that ruling, and is currently consulting on new rules that would require prospectors to notify the government of any Class 1 exploration activities.
The territory would, in turn, notify potentially affected First Nations, and consult and accommodate where appropriate.
Those legislative changes are expected to go through during the fall sitting of the legislative assembly.
The Court of Appeal also found that allowing free-entry claim staking could infringe on the rights of the Ross River Dena Council, but the government has asked for leave to appeal that finding to the Supreme Court of Canada.
Van Bibber called the proposed changes a “step in the right direction,” but said what is really needed is a full examination of all mining legislation and how it could be harmonized with First Nation agreements.
“We want to make sure that the whole legislation is looked at and changed, and not keep operating at a Band-Aid approach. When things happen they do amendments here and there but it’s time to look at the whole thing.”
The First Nation points to Ontario as an example of what could be done.
There, new mining rules came into effect in 2012 to better accommodate both First Nation treaty rights and private landowners.
By fixing the problem at the source, the government, First Nations and miners would minimize conflicts and avoid costly lawsuits, said Van Bibber.
“Fixing the legislation will provide certainty for industry, First Nations governments and all Yukoners, we believe. It’s a win-win.”
The Yukon government’s consultation on proposed changes to the Class 1 exploration rules runs through July 31.
More information is available at http://www.emr.gov.yk.ca/mining.
Contact Jacqueline Ronson at