Territory playing for time: chiefs

Disappointed, but not surprised.

Disappointed, but not surprised.

That’s how the chiefs of the Tr’ondek Hwech’in and the Na-Cho Nyak Dun First Nations describe their reaction to the Yukon government’s rejection of a plan to protect 80 per cent of the Peel watershed.

The Yukon Party government only offered the vaguest of reasons for rejecting the plan on the onset of the Christmas holidays. The plan is too complicated, the territory complained, and it doesn’t allow for enough “mixed uses.”

Officials wouldn’t elaborate on what this means, but, for both chiefs, the answer is plain enough: the plan isn’t friendly enough to miners.

The four First Nations that have traditional territories in the Peel, meanwhile, have called for full protection of the vast, 77,000 square kilometre, Scotland-sized swath of land in northeast Yukon.

The Peel’s rugged wilderness remains largely pristine, and the affected First Nations and conservationists want it kept that way to create one of the world’s largest protected areas.

Miners, meanwhile, warn that offering wholesale protection of the Peel would rob the territory of jobs and wealth. They’ve criticized the plan for containing “quasi-religious” conservationist values.

Uranium deposits have been discovered along the Wind River. There’s oil and gas in the Peel plateau. And Chevron owns the massive Crest iron deposit along the Snake River.

No matter that many of these claims are remote enough to raise doubts about their potential as profitable mines. Miners are upset – not only over the proportion of the Peel that planners designated off-limits to mining, but also by a complete ban on building roads in the region, creating another big impediment to development.

The government probably realizes that taking any side in this dispute is a lose-lose proposition. Protect the Peel and be damned by miners; open it up and be damned by conservationists and First Nations.

So it may reckon it’s best to do nothing.

Simon Mervyn, chief of the Na-Cho Nyak Dun, expects the government will “stretch out any issue they aren’t happy with.” Eddie Taylor, chief of the Tr’ondek Hwech’in, sees the government reaction as political “stickhandling” and doesn’t expect a regional land-use plan to be struck under this government.

Two other First Nations have a say in Peel negotiations: Yukon’s Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation and the Tetlit Gwitch’in of the Northwest Territories. All four First Nations committed to protecting all of the Peel in a letter sent to the territory in October.

Affected First Nations and the territory have one year to agree on a joint position on the Peel plan. The territory wants to extend this deadline.

Either way, a territorial election will be held before the deadline is reached: the Yukon Party’s mandate expires this autumn.

Oddly enough, a failure to reach an agreement on the Peel may play to the territorial government’s favour. If that happens, the Peel lands revert back to its original owners. The vast bulk of it is Crown land, controlled by the territory.

But bad-faith negotiations could land the territory in court, both chiefs warned.

“We have a couple of extra barrels loaded,” said Mervyn. “Our inherent rights are first and foremost in our minds. If we have to go there, it’s court.”

Both the mealy-mouthness of the Yukon’s response to the Peel plan, and its timing immediately before the holidays, suggests to both chiefs a reluctance to deal with the issue.

Both chiefs also objected to the territory’s assertion that the Peel Watershed Planning Commission somehow erred in its interpretation of the Umbrella Final Agreement when it produced its plan.

“There are members on that commission that know that agreement inside-out,” said Taylor.

Mervyn called the territory’s approach “dismal” and “preposterous.”

First Nation and territorial officials will meet on January 20 to continue negotiations over their response to the plan.

The territorial government’s handling of the creation of the Peel’s regional land-use plan has faced criticism from the start, when it ignored the commission’s request in 2004 to ban the staking of new claims in the region.

Predictably, prospectors rushed in. Claims in the region jumped from 2,071 in 2004 to 10,666 in 2008. Most of the staking rush occurred along the Wind River, which also happens to be a favourite destination for backcountry paddlers.

The government finally imposed a staking ban in February of 2010.

More skepticism was raised over the government’s intentions to preserve to the Peel when it came to light in the summer of 2009 that Premier Dennis Fentie had prevented pro-conservation proposals being submitted to the commission by the territory’s Department of Environment.

Contact John Thompson at


Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Children’s performer Claire Ness poses for a photo for the upcoming annual Pivot Festival. “Claire Ness Morning” will be a kid-friendly performance streamed on the morning of Jan. 30. (Photo courtesy Erik Pinkerton Photography)
Pivot Festival provides ‘delight and light’ to a pandemic January

The festival runs Jan. 20 to 30 with virtual and physically distant events

The Boulevard of Hope was launched by the Yukon T1D Support Network and will be lit up throughout January. It is aimed at raising awareness about Yukoners living with Type 1 diabetes. (Stephanie Waddell/Yukon News)
Boulevard of Hope sheds light on Type 1 diabetes

Organizers hope to make it an annual event

City of Whitehorse city council meeting in Whitehorse on Oct. 5, 2020. An updated council procedures bylaw was proposed at Whitehorse city council’s Jan. 18 meeting that would see a few changes to council meetings and how council handles certain matters like civil emergencies. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Whitehorse procedures bylaw comes forward

New measures proposed for how council could deal with emergencies

A Yukon survey querying transportation between communities has already seen hundreds of participants and is the latest review highlighting the territory’s gap in accessibility. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Multiple reports, survey decry lack of transportation between Yukon communities

A Community Travel survey is the latest in a slew of initiatives pointing to poor accessibility

Mobile vaccine team Team Balto practises vaccine clinic set-up and teardown at Vanier Catholic Secondary School. Mobile vaccine teams are heading out this week to the communities in order to begin Moderna vaccinations. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Mobile vaccine teams begin community vaccinations

“It’s an all-of-government approach”

A file photo of grizzly bear along the highway outside Dawson City. Yukon conservation officers euthanized a grizzly bear Jan. 15 that was originally sighted near Braeburn. (Alistair Maitland/Yukon News file)
Male grizzly euthanized near Braeburn

Yukon conservation officers have euthanized a grizzly bear that was originally sighted… Continue reading

Mayor Dan Curtis listens to a councillor on the phone during a city council meeting in Whitehorse on April 14, 2020. Curtis announced Jan. 14 that he intends to seek nomination to be the Yukon Liberal candidate for Whitehorse Centre in the 2021 territorial election. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Whitehorse mayor seeking nomination for territorial election

Whitehorse mayor Dan Curtis is preparing for a run in the upcoming… Continue reading

Gerard Redinger was charged under the <em>Civil Emergency Measures Act</em> with failing to self-isolate and failing to transit through the Yukon in under 24 hours. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Man ticketed $1,150 at Wolf Creek campground for failing to self-isolate

Gerard Redinger signed a 24-hour transit declaration, ticketed 13 days later

Yukon Energy, Solvest Inc. and Chu Níikwän Development Corporation are calling on the city for a meeting to look at possibilities for separate tax rates or incentives for renewable energy projects. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Tax changes sought for Whitehorse energy projects

Delegates call for separate property tax category for renewable energy projects

Yukon University has added seven members to its board of governors in recent months. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
New members named to Yukon U’s board of governors

Required number of board members now up to 17

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: Your Northern regulatory adventure awaits!

“Your Northern adventure awaits!” blared the headline on a recent YESAB assessment… Continue reading

Yukoner Shirley Chua-Tan is taking on the role of vice-chair of the social inclusion working group with the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences’ oversight panel and working groups for the autism assessment. (Submitted)
Canadian Academy of Health Sciences names Yukoner to panel

Shirley Chua-Tan is well-known for a number of roles she plays in… Continue reading

Most Read