The Gwich’in Tribal Council has announced its intention to sue the Yukon government over its handling of the Peel land use plan.
It will be the second lawsuit launched by First Nations over the government’s new plan for the region.
“Despite the Gwich’in’s good-faith participation in this process, the Yukon government has drastically and unilaterally re-written the operative elements of the final recommended plan, significantly reducing the protections for the Peel watershed,” according to a press release from the council.
“The Yukon government’s new plan will allow substantial development in critical parts of the Peel watershed, threatening Gwich’in’s continued connection to this sacred area.”
In 2011 a planning commission recommended that 80 per cent of the Peel watershed should be protected from new roads and development and 20 per cent should be open for resource industries.
The four affected First Nations, who initially asked for 100 per cent protection, agreed that this was an acceptable compromise.
But last month the Yukon government released its own plan for the Peel, which opens up 71 per cent of the area to new mineral staking. The government says that stricter environmental rules in most of that area will ensure that it stays wild.
The First Nation of Nacho Nyak Dun and the Tr’ondek Hwech’in filed a lawsuit against the government last week, arguing that the commission’s plan is the only legal plan for the watershed.
The Gwich’in Tribal Council’s legal action will support the suit of the other two First Nations and will be based on the council’s unique legal relationship to the Yukon government, according to the press release.
The council is based in Inuvik, N.W.T. It represents Gwich’in people in the Mackenzie delta region of the Northwest Territories.
The Gwich’in have lived off the land in the Peel watershed for millennia.
The right of Tetlit Gwich’in Council, based in Fort McPherson, to participate in a land use plan for the Peel watershed is described in the Gwich’in Comprehensive Land Claim Agreement signed in 1992 with the governments of N.W.T. and Canada.
While most of the Peel watershed is in the Yukon, the river eventually flows into the Northwest Territories and into the Mackenzie Delta before dumping into the Beaufort Sea.
On its way it flows by the communities of Fort McPherson and Aklavik.
Last week community members in Aklavik, Fort McPherson and Inuvik rallied in protest of the government’s plan.
Residents of Aklavik organized a petition and delivered it to Yukon Premier Darrell Pasloski last week.
“The Peel River flows right around our community,” the petition reads. “It is our source of drinking water and has many other values that are important to us. We are thinking beyond any short-term benefits and looking long term for our future generations.”
The petition was signed by 124 people in the small community of about 600 residents.
Contact Jacqueline Ronson at