On The Riverbank

There are times when the governments of Yukon, Whitehorse, Kwanlin Dun and Ta’an Kwach’an First Nation don’t quite see eye to eye…

There are times when the governments of Yukon, Whitehorse, Kwanlin Dun and Ta’an Kwach’an First Nation don’t quite see eye to eye … surprise!

Waterfront development has been one of those challenging processes for intergovernmental relations. And, at the risk of over-simplifying the position of each governing body, here’s a synopsis.

The people of Kwanlin Dun and Ta’an Kwach’an have used the waterfront area as seasonal hunting and fishing camps for thousands of years.

In the current urban environment, land selection has focused on points of heritage interest as well as future economic potential.

The proposed Kwanlin Dun Cultural Centre is part of a larger commercial development on the waterfront that would reclaim a portion of the riverfront for the First Nation and serve as a source of economic development and employment.

From Artspace North’s perspective, the Kwanlin Dun Cultural Centre would be the centre of the new cultural district with the Arts and Heritage Village to the south and the Shipyards Park outdoor stage to the north, but the project has been delayed due to federal and territorial government funding issues and the First Nation has made it clear that it will not support other waterfront development until its own project goes ahead.

Artspace North supports the First Nation’s vision for its cultural centre, but the village is now poised to move forward. So the village is caught between a political rock and a hard place with Kwanlin Dun.

Whitehorse is responsible for waterfront planning.

Since the mid-‘90s, the municipality has been developing lands along the river from Miles Canyon to Marwell as a series of trails and parks.

The fundamental objective of the municipality is to develop the land to meet the expressed needs of the community, use federal and territorial infrastructure funding wherever possible and pay for the shortfall by selling parts of the waterfront lands for commercial development.

The city prefers landscaping to buildings because grass has a lower long-term operating cost.

The city’s response to the village is, “Great idea — as long as we don’t have to pay for it.”

But in the world of public infrastructure funding, the municipality’s lack of involvement makes the achievement of cost-shared funding agreements with other levels of government that much more difficult.

That places the brunt of costs for the village on the Yukon government, and the village is caught between a political rock and a hard place once again.

The Yukon government has been “arts friendly” since the NDP governments of Tony Penikett and Piers McDonald put most of the current arts infrastructure and funding programs in place.

After two years of a comparatively unfriendly Liberal regime, the arts community held its collective breath when the Yukon Party came to power.

As it turned out, the Yukon Party demonstrated a good understanding of the value of culture to the economy and the community and has been supportive of the arts … who knew?

The village project received a vote of confidence from Premier Dennis Fentie and was adopted by Yukon government and put in the 2006-2007 capital budget.

But it’s a big-dollar decision and, as the election draws closer, who could blame it for running out the clock with further consultations.

The fate of the village will be left to the election … yet another squeeze!

This is the seventh in a series of columns about the Arts and Heritage Village proposed for the Whitehorse waterfront.

This column provided courtesy of Artspace North.

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