Vuntut Gwitchin won’t join Peel lawsuits

The Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation will not pursue legal action against the Yukon government over its new plan for the Peel watershed, Chief Joe Linklater confirmed Tuesday.

The Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation will not pursue legal action against the Yukon government over its new plan for the Peel watershed, Chief Joe Linklater confirmed Tuesday.

About 40 people showed up to a special general assembly in Old Crow Saturday, he said.

The primary purpose was to update the government’s constitution, said Linklater. But it was also a chance to update the community on the Peel.

While other affected First Nations have come forward with lawsuits against the government over its new plan for the Peel, there had been little word from Vuntut Gwitchin leadership.

More than a dozen community members participated in a solidarity walk earlier this month, carrying signs expressing support for protection of the Peel.

But it was not in Vuntut Gwitchin’s best interest to join the lawsuits against the government, said Linklater.

The three other First Nations with traditional territory in the watershed have all said they will sue over the government’s plan, which opens up 71 per cent of the area to new mineral staking.

But the Vuntut Gwitchin’s traditional territory only accounts for a small part of the watershed, mostly along northern portions of the Dempster corridor.

Linklater estimated that Vuntut Gwitchin territory makes up less than three per cent of the whole watershed.

And in those areas, the government’s new plan looks pretty much the same as what was in the in the plan recommended by the planning commission.

“We’ve gotten, substantially, everything that was in the recommended plan,” said Linklater. “So legal counsel had said there really is no legal fight for the Vuntut Gwitchin as far as the Peel.”

But the First Nation and the community still support the final recommended plan and the legal action launched by the other First Nations, said Linklater.

“We explained to our members, this doesn’t stop anybody from supporting the protection of the Peel, but from strictly our government’s perspective there is no fight there. And when you look at the cost of going to court, the benefit that we would get out of it – there’s nothing more for us to benefit as far as our traditional territory goes.”

Many at the meeting said they would like to see the First Nation do more, but they understood why legal action was not the right way, said Linklater.

Community members asked chief and council to reach out to the other three First Nations and express support for their action, he said.

“We said we would definitely do that, that we do support them in their efforts to protect the Peel.”

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at

jronson@yukon-news.com

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