Premier Sandy Silver will head to Washington, D.C., next week, leading a delegation of seven premiers as chair of the Council of the Federation.
Issues such as trade, energy, border security, and agriculture will be on the agenda. However, Silver intends to raise two other Yukon-specific issues as well, namely the protection of the Porcupine caribou herd in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the Shakwak Agreement for funding the upgrading of the Haines Road and the northern portion of the Alaska Highway.
“We need to use our opportunity of being the chair of the federation to highlight those two issues specifically,” said Silver, who will be in the U.S. capital June 5-8.
The delegation comes at a pivotal time. On May 31, U.S. interior secretary, Ryan Zinke, pledged to open Alaska’s North Slope to new development while speaking at a conference hosted by Alaska Oil and Gas Association, the Alaska Dispatch News reported.
Zinke also thanked President Trump for ending the “war on North American energy” and said that while the climate is changing, much about the process isn’t understood, ADN reported. The next day, Trump formally announced that the United States would withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate change.
Oil drilling in ANWR has been debated for the past 40 years and is currently supported by Republican Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski. This could have devastating effects on the Porcupine caribou herd, whose calving area is thought to hold large amounts of oil.
The herd is integral to the culture and food supply of the Gwich’in people, who have long lobbied against oil drilling in ANWR.
“This is high on our priorities because this is our way of life, our culture and our history. This is a Yukon culture and a Yukon history,” said Silver, adding that the trip to Washington is an opportunity to amplify the voices of Indigenous lobbyists.
Meanwhile, the official Opposition Yukon Party has been critical of Silver as he prepares for the trip, tweeting June 1 that the “Premier of Yukon doesn’t know what the agenda for Washington is and he doesn’t even know who is attending.”
This was in response to a comment made by Silver during question period on June 1: “I believe — and I might be corrected — that Premier McNeil is going to be the premier who will be chairing the conversation when it comes to energy.”
The Yukon Party cited, also on Twitter, a Council of the Federation news release, which stated McNeil isn’t part of the delegation. However, another page on the council’s website does list McNeil as an attendee.
The two parties do seem to be collaborating on the issue of Shakwak funding. The United States hasn’t contributed any money for road upgrades and repairs since 2012. The affected highways run through Yukon Party MLA Wade Istchenko’s riding of Kluane and see predominantly American traffic.
Premier Silver has endorsed a letter written by Istchenko to Global Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, asking for her to raise the issue with U.S. officials. Silver has also discussed the Shakwak with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Contact Andrew Seal at firstname.lastname@example.org
This story was updated at 2:35 p.m. June 2, 2017.