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Northern First Nations call for a major overhaul of mining legislation

The Na-Cho Nyäk Dun, Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in and Vuntut Gwitchin Governments say change is long overdue
Aerial view of one of the proposed Coffee mine sites 130 km south of Dawson City on Sept. 11, 2018. The Na-Cho Nyäk Dun, Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in and Vuntut Gwitchin governments are calling for a major overhaul of mining policy in a submission to the Yukon Mineral Development Strategy. (Julien Gignac/Yukon News file)

The Na-Cho Nyäk Dun, Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in and Vuntut Gwitchin governments are the latest to call for a major overhaul of mining policy in a submission to the Yukon Mineral Development Strategy.

“This is long overdue,” said Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Deputy Chief Simon Nagano, who added that the current outdated legislation is cumbersome for everyone involved.

“We’re not anti-mining. There’s a lot of First Nations families out there that work in the industry. We want to work with (First Nations), the miners, the Yukon government so that each party is happy. Finally, when the Yukon government can agree to have this completed it’ll be a benefit to all three,” he said.

In 2001 the Yukon government and all eleven self-governing Yukon First Nations agreed to work together on recommendations for new mining legislation to update the Placer Mining Act and the Quartz Mining Act. The process is still underway almost 20 years later.

The Yukon Mineral Development Strategy is currently accepting submissions from stakeholders in a public consultation phase, which ends on Aug. 31.

The 20-page document from the three northern First Nations calls for a “fundamental overhaul” and emphasizes the need for each First Nation to be able to protect their lands and uphold their own laws.

The submission calls for limitations on the existing “free entry system” that allows prospectors to explore for minerals on public lands. Ideally, engagement with First Nations should happen prior to staking, according to the document.

It also addresses the need for consultation and facilitation around benefit agreements and royalty sharing. There are also concerns about making sure development is compatible with environmental protection.

All three First Nations feel updated laws around mining are “desperately required.”

While COVID-19 pushed back the consultation deadline, the submission calls on the panel to move forward quickly with developing recommendations before the 2021 territorial elections.

“For too long, our people have tolerated Yukon Government’s failure to live up to the promise of our treaties,” said First Nation of Na-Cho Nyäk Dun Chief Simon Mervyn, in a press release.

“We signed our Final Agreement more than 20 years ago, and mining continues in our territory as though nothing has changed. Our people are tired of waiting. We need new legislation and we need the commitment to land use planning to be fulfilled. In the interim, our lands must be protected,” he said.

In the same release, Vuntut Gwitchin Chief Dana Tizya-Tramm said the new laws should be similar to what was achieved with the Yukon’s Oil and Gas Act, which was reformed in 2015.

“Vuntut Gwitchin Government stands in solidarity with the Northern Nations and recognizes the importance of modern legislation, co-drafted with First Nations,” he said. “The vision and contribution of First Nations to resource management is paramount, and deserves to be acknowledged. “

Other groups that have made submissions so far include Carcross/Tagish First Nation, multiple conservation groups, the Yukon Prospectors Association, Yukon Outfitters Association, Yukon Heritage Resources Board and the president of CMC Metals.

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