Two First Nations and two conservation groups have joined together to sue the Yukon government over its new plan for the Peel watershed.
The statement of claim was filed Yukon Supreme Court on Monday afternoon.
The details of the legal action were announced at a press conference in Vancouver this morning.
Thomas Berger, a pioneering lawyer in the area of Canadian aboriginal rights, will lead the case.
“It’s a lawsuit that nobody wanted to bring,” said Berger, “but the Yukon government has forced these plaintiffs to go to court not only in defence of First Nations and environmental values in Yukon, but also to uphold principles entrenched in the Constitution.”
The Yukon government last week implemented a land use plan for the Peel watershed that opens 71 per cent of the area to new staking.
The plan recommended by the Peel planning commission called for 80 percent of the area be protected from new staking and roads.
First Nations, who had initially asked for 100 per cent protection, say they have compromised enough and that the Yukon government has run afoul of its agreements by introducing its own plan at this late stage in the process.
The First Nation of Nacho Nyak Dun, the Tr’ondek Hwech’in, the Yukon Conservation Society and the Yukon chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society are parties to the suit.
Chiefs from those First Nations both spoke at the press conference.
“As our elders say, the Peel watershed is our church, our university and our breadbasket,” said Tr’ondek Hwech’in Chief Eddie Taylor. “It sustains our spirit, our minds and our bodies. It is as sacred to us as it was to our ancestors, and as it will be to our grandchildren.”
Nacho Nyak Dun Chief Ed Champion said that Yukon has threatened the meaningful business relationships between First Nations and resource companies that both groups work hard to maintain.
The government should immediately reverse its action or risk losing the next election, he said.
The two other First Nations affected by the plan, the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation and the Gwich’in Tribal Council, have not joined the action.
Territorial and national First Nation leaders were present at the press conference this morning.
Among those were Joe Linklater, chief of Vuntut Gwitchin; Ruth Massie, grand chief of the Council of Yukon First Nations; Ed Shultz, former CYFN grand chief; Mike Smith, Yukon’s regional chief for the Assembly of First Nations; and several other Yukon chiefs.
The conference was held at a downtown Vancouver hotel, just blocks from where Yukon officials are gathered for the annual Mineral Exploration Roundup conference.
“Roundup is an important event where we are able to connect with key members of Yukon’s mining industry and showcase Yukon’s advantage as a place to do business,” said Premier Darrell Pasloski in a news release.
Contact Jacqueline Ronson at email@example.com