N.W.T. First Nation says Liard Basin is theirs

A Northwest Territories-based First Nation says the resource-rich land in the southeast Yukon belongs to them alone. The Acho Dene Koe First Nation is based in Fort Liard, but their traditional territory spans the N.W.

A Northwest Territories-based First Nation says the resource-rich land in the southeast Yukon belongs to them alone.

The Acho Dene Koe First Nation is based in Fort Liard, but their traditional territory spans the N.W.T., the Yukon and British Columbia, roughly in equal parts.

Chief Harry Deneron said the Kaska have no right to impose an oil and gas moratorium on his First Nation’s traditional territory.

“That’s not a solution. That’s not a solution at all. Pretty soon we’re going to have to get up and scream I guess.”

The Kaska announced in September that they would not consent to any oil and gas projects on their traditional territory until they can reach an agreement with the government of Yukon on several outstanding issues.

The Kaska’s traditional territory extends beyond the eastern border of the Yukon and into the Northwest Territories.

The Liard Basin, just west of the border, holds Yukon’s only two producing natural gas wells.

But the Acho Dene Koe say they are the sole aboriginal owners and users of that land.

“We are the only ones in the southeast Yukon, and we never, ever see anybody from the Yukon ever, ever, ever over there,” said Deneron.

“We have over 30 cabins in there. We’re not moving out. We’re not going to dismantle, we’re not going to take out the dead and the bones and move out.”

They have never opposed any development on their land, and they don’t want to take anyone to court, said Deneron. The only solution is to negotiate with governments and industry.

The trouble began when the borders were cut between the N.W.T., Yukon and B.C., said Deneron.

As far as he is concerned, the borders didn’t exist until 1956, when he saw them literally being cut through the land, he said. It was the first time they saw non-aboriginal people on their land.

Many members of the First Nation helped slash the borders, but they were never told that it would divide their families, said Deneron.

The Kaska disagree with the First Nation’s claim that the southeast Yukon is not part of their traditional territory.

“Traditional activity goes beyond just a couple registered traplines,” said Liard McMillan, chief of the Liard First Nation.

“Kaska have trails used in all areas of its traditional territory. We’ve got unmarked grave sites all across our territory.”

Kaska people continue to fish and hunt across the territory to this day, he said.

The Acho Dene Koe is currently in negotiations with Canada and the Northwest Territories to reach a land claims agreement for the portion of their lands lying within that territory.

After they have concluded that agreement, they will begin negotiations with the Yukon, said Deneron.

The Yukon has recognized that the First Nation continues to assert its claim to land in the southeast portion of the territory, and that it hopes to eventually work towards an agreement, said Dermot Flynn with the territory’s land claims secretariat.

The Kaska have made attempts to work with the Acho Dene Koe, said McMillan.

They hosted Deneron’s predecessor in Watson Lake for a meeting, he said. And they offered to meet with Deneron, but his position at the time was that they wanted to meet with the Yukon government first, said McMillan.

The Kaska should be consulted on the Acho Dene Koe’s agreement with the N.W.T. and Canada, since their territory extends past that border, said McMillan.

So far, the federal government has not met its duty for a deep consultation, he said.

“We’re open to discussion with the Acho Dene with regard to its issues.”

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at

jronson@yukon-news.com

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