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Peel playback at First Nations resource conference

Mining companies attending this year's Yukon First Nations Resource Conference said they respect First Nations' wishes to stay out of the Peel River watershed.

Mining companies attending this year’s Yukon First Nations Resource Conference said they respect First Nations’ wishes to stay out of the Peel River watershed.

“The environment is not for sale,” Chief Simon Mervyn of the First Nation of Na-cho Nyak Dun told delegates attending the third annual conference in Whitehorse on Tuesday morning.

“And economic necessity will not supersede environmental destruction. Our position is clear. Industry and the corporate world have got to realize that First Nations are adamant about land protection,” said Mervyn, who spoke up during a panel discussion on First Nation relations with the mining industry.

Rob Carpenter, CEO and co-founder of Kaminak Resources, agreed.

“Our philosophy - corporately, and mine personally - is always to go where you’re wanted,” said Carpenter.

“We don’t want to go into restricted areas, controversial areas, for example, the Peel. We’re not interested in going up there and staking claims or being involved in that area whatsoever.

“We take our direction from ... our shareholders. They don’t want us to go to controversial areas. But I don’t speak for the industry.”

After his lunch address to the conference, Premier Darrell Pasloski was asked whether mining companies’ support for First Nations’ wishes to protect the Peel would change his government’s stance at all.

“I think we’ve clearly defined where we need to go,” he said. “What we’re doing is a process that was agreed to by the four affected First Nations. That’s the process that we’re in. No decisions have been made at this time and I think that’s what’s important.”

Mervyn also brought up the idea of airships.

“Our First Nation is not opposed to development at all but we want it done carefully,” he said.

The chief listed examples of military work being done on the “lighter-than-air” ships capable of carrying extreme weights, as well as a German tourism industry based on the ships.

“In our perspective, that could eliminate a lot of environmental destruction in regards to bulldozers going where they shouldn’t be,” Mervyn said.

“You can go over and get to your claims in another way. In a conceptual vision this is possible, with careful planning,” he said.

Carpenter supported that idea, citing examples in northern Manitoba and eastern Nunavut as a testament to the technology’s success in cold temperatures.

“Certainly we’d be open to it,” he said, noting that Transport Canada would have to regulate it first. “It sounds like it’s a lot cheaper. No one wants to build roads.”

Chief Eddie Taylor, of the Tr’ondek Hwech’in, also sat on the panel Tuesday.

“We need more people like Rob in the Yukon, engaging with First Nations,” he said in his opening address. “That would make the mining industry - outside the Peel watershed - very favourable for all of us.”

The Peel, while not an identified topic on the agenda, was a common conversation piece at the conference, which also offered a student job fair for the mining sector.

Proactive engagement was also a major talking point.

In 2011, the Ross River Dena Council asked the Yukon courts to require the territory and mining companies to consult with it before any claims are granted in its traditional territory.

Carpenter noted his company’s efforts to meet with the Tr’ondek Hewch’in government early on in its exploration work in the White Gold area, about 130 kilometres south of Dawson City.

The two have developed a healthy and co-operative relationship, filled with elder tours and community events, despite still not having signed a formal agreement, he said.

But Carpenter admits “proactive” comes after the stakes have been driven in the ground.

“That’s a tough one,” said Carpenter, noting Ross River Dena’s case. “From a business perspective, we come out with a strategy, but what if someone finds out about it? It’s very secret. Once you say specifically where (you are staking), you run the risk of someone scooping you because it’s a pretty competitive business.”

Carpenter would be open to a general “heads up” before staking claims, he said.

A discussion on general locations may be enough to notify First Nations, while also feeling out their attitude toward the area and exploration in general, he said.

“If it’s negative, I’m not going to push that,” he said. “There are enough areas in the world where they do want guys like me so I’m going to go there.”

Early communication could also help First Nations better understand the mining process and industry, said Carpenter.

A fear of staking can be unnecessarily exaggerated, he said.

“Staking a claim doesn’t really mean a whole lot,” he said.

“I think a First Nation may look at a claim as automatically becoming a mine, but the reality is that the odds are 10,000 to one.”

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at