Peel controversy likely headed to court, chiefs say

The four chiefs with land in the Peel watershed say unless the Yukon government lives up to the agreements they’ve signed, the First Nations will take the issue to court.

The four chiefs with land in the Peel watershed say unless the Yukon government lives up to the agreements they’ve signed, the First Nations will take the issue to court.

On Friday, shortly after the chiefs publicly decried the Yukon government’s most recent announcement on the Peel land-use plan, they sent a legal notice to the territory’s bureaucrats, said Chief Simon Mervyn, of the First Nation of Na-cho Nyak Dun.

Mervyn was chosen to speak on behalf of the group which also includes the Tr’ondek Hwech’in, the Vuntut Gwitchin and the Gwich’in Tribal Council.

“We’ve followed up our news release today with a legal opinion,” Mervyn told the News on Friday afternoon. “It’s in YG’s (Yukon government’s) hands right now. We’ll await the outcome of that.

“But we acknowledge the fact that either way the argument spins, there will be court involved – unless they come to terms with working collaboratively with First Nations, as per the expectations of the final agreements.”

On Feb. 14, the Yukon government announced it is not going to accept the recommended plan, which calls for 80 per cent of the watershed to be protected.

The government hasn’t released details of what it wants to see instead, other than unveiling eight “principles that will be used to guide modification and completion” of a plan.

In a news release Friday, the four chiefs said they were “dismayed” by this “surprising” action.

“We were blindsided by these unexpected principles appearing when the plan was almost done,” said Tr’ondek Hwech’in Chief Eddie Taylor in the release.

“Their recent announcement that they alone would determine what principles will be applied to the final plan is disturbing,” said Richard Nerysoo, president of the Gwich’in Tribal Council.

The Yukon government has gone against its own letter of understanding, which all five parties signed in January 2011, by unilaterally drafting these new principles, they said.

The territorial government’s recent move on the Peel has not only compromised the past seven years of work, but it has undermined the integrity of future land-use planning in the territory, Mervyn said in the release.

The main objective is to balance “access for industry and other users while establishing protection in key habitat areas,” said Yukon Premier Darrell Pasloski in the government’s release.

Details about changes the government plans to make to the recommended plan will be included in the next round of negotiations, the release said.

Mervyn said the chiefs realize the planning process is still ongoing.

“YG has painted themselves into a corner in the sense that they have to face the wrath of the Yukon people,” he said.

“We’re patient people. We’re not greedy. We’re transparent, we’re honest and throughout the whole process we’ve done what’s right by the people, the land and the children and Yukoners in general.

“Like I say, we’ll wait patiently and tie our dogs firmly to the tree. But when it’s time to go, we’ll untie them and hit the trail.”

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at roxannes@yukon-news.com

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