The White River First Nation is calling for Goldcorp’s Coffee mine to be sent to a full panel review because it’s concerned that the project is being pushed through the screening process too quickly. (Courtesy of Kaminak Gold Corp.)

White River First Nation calls for panel review of Yukon’s Coffee mine

‘Passing papers back and forth will not allow us to convey our issues and concerns’

The White River First Nation is calling for Goldcorp’s Coffee mine south of Dawson City to be sent to a full panel review by the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board, the highest level of assessment available in the territory.

The First Nation says it’s concerned that the project is being pushed through the screening process too quickly and that the First Nation is not being adequately consulted.

“How can YESAB properly review a project such as this without a full panel review? Ours is an oral history and culture which comprises our traditional knowledge; passing papers back and forth will not allow us to convey our issues and concerns through our oral history,” Chief Angela Demit said in a statement.

“Yukoners will be taking on a significant liability licensing this project, and we are facing significant infringement on our rights, culture and sense of place…the full extent of which has yet to be determined.”

WRFN’s lawyer, Robert Freedman, said WRFN, which does not have a signed self-government agreement, is concerned about protecting its rights and culture.

“What we’re really talking about are their unextinguished aboriginal rights that haven’t been settled by treaty or otherwise,” he said.

White River has been raising concerns for years with Canada, the Yukon government and the assessment board about how White River fits “into this process that’s largely designed for final agreement nations and based on the UFA map,” he said.

At hearings that could come with the panel review, there would be steps like cross examination for “really testing evidence,” he said.

Last year the territorial and federal governments announced plans to spend $360 million on the Yukon Resource Gateway project including work on roads to the Coffee site.

“Given that this is a mine and it’s potentially the first of many with the Gateway project and roads, we just don’t see screening as an adequate way — when you’re potentially opening up an area — to deal with White River’s concerns,” Freedman said.

Yukon Premier Sandy Silver has promised work won’t go ahead without the okay from First Nations.

“We don’t want the public or the government to think this (the mine) is a done deal and White River is forced again to go to court,” Freedman said. “We think there’s a way of doing this properly that safeguards everyone’s interests if White River’s concerns are taken into account.”

Chris Cormier, general manager of the Coffee project, said Goldcorp believes it is complying with the process laid out in the act. “In comparison to other projects in the territory we believe that it’s appropriately scoped within the process,” he said.

The Coffee mine is in the middle of YESAB’s adequacy review stage. Last year the process was stopped when the board ruled Goldcorp had not adequately consulted with First Nations.

Freedman said WRFN still does not believe the consultation has been adequate.

“White River’s view is by and large their application doesn’t consider impacts on rights, does a very poor job if at all of considering impacts on culture and does so through a non-Indigenous lens.”

Cormier said the company is reaching out to all the First Nations.

Early this week Goldcorp signed an agreement with the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in First Nation laying out “the economic opportunities, training, environmental protection as part of the Coffee project which falls 100 per cent in their territory,” he said.

Cormier said Goldcorp has also answered all of the questions the board had for it during the adequacy stage. There’s no timeline for when the board could decide if it has everything it needs to move to the next step.

If the Coffee mine was to go to a panel review it would only be the second mine in the territory to get there. The Casino mine was sent for a panel review 2016. Casino Mining Corporation has said it hopes to have its proposal resubmitted to the assessment board by the end of 2018.

Since no Yukon mine has ever gone through the process yet YESAB spokesperson Rob Yoemans couldn’t say exactly what a panel review for Coffee would look like.

When the board announced plans for Casino’s review it promised public hearing and “quasi-judicial authorities,” meaning it can subpoena witnesses, call evidence and make orders.

Under the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act a review panel can be requested by a First Nation, whether it has a self-government agreement or not, if the First Nation gets consent from both the federal and territorial government.

Energy, Mines and Resources Minister Ranj Pillai said he wouldn’t comment on what the board should do in this case.

“I would say that we’ve seen thorough project reviews at the executive committee level and really there has never been a panel review of a project of this size,” he said. “I think that Goldcorp has shown leadership with their relationships with First Nations governments, I truly do.”

Like Cormier, Pillai pointed to the deal signed between the mining company and Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in. He said the Yukon government is also working on “consultation plans” with all the First Nations in the area, including White River.

The plans will be “built to ensure that there’s a shared understanding of how our government needs to fulfill consultation obligations,” he said.

Pillai said he hasn’t heard from the First Nation government specifically asking for consent to request a review. The first he heard of it was through the press release, he said.

Pillai wouldn’t comment on whether the First Nation would get that consent if they asked for it.

Even without an official request, a panel review could also be required by the executive committee if it decides “the project might contribute significantly to cumulative adverse environmental or socio-economic effects in Yukon or that the project is causing or is likely to cause significant public concern in Yukon,” the act says.

Contact Ashley Joannou at ashleyj@yukon-news.com

This story has been updated to include comments from Ranj Pillai.

Coffee Gold projectminingWhite River First Nation

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

Just Posted

An avalanche warning sigh along the South Klondike Highway. Local avalanche safety instructors say interest in courses has risen during the pandemic as more Yukoners explore socially distanced outdoor activities. (Tom Patrick/Yukon News file)
Backcountry busy: COVID-19 has Yukoners heading for the hills

Stable conditions for avalanches have provided a grace period for backcountry newcomers

Several people enter the COVID-19 vaccination clinic at the Coast High Country Inn Convention Centre in Whitehorse on Jan. 26. The Yukon government announced on Jan. 25 that residents of Whitehorse, Ibex Valley, Marsh Lake and Mount Lorne areas 65 and older can now receive their vaccines. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Vaccine appointments available in Whitehorse for residents 65+

Yukoners 65 and older living in Whitehorse are now eligible to receive… Continue reading

Diane McLeod-McKay, Yukon’s Ombudsman and information and privacy commissioner, filed a petition on Dec. 11 after her office was barred from accessing documents related to a child and family services case. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Yukon government rejects Ombudsman requests for documentation filed to Supreme Court

Diane McLeod-McKay filed a petition on Dec. 11 after requests for documents were barred

Buffalo Sabres center Dylan Cozens, left, celebrates his first NHL goal with defenceman Rasmus Ristolainen during the second period of a game against the Washington Capitals on Jan. 22 in Washington. (Nick Wass/AP)
Cozens notches first NHL goal in loss to Capitals

The Yukoner potted his first tally at 10:43 of the second period on Jan. 22

Rodney and Ekaterina Baker in an undated photo from social media. The couple has been ticketed and charged under the Yukon’s <em>Civil Emergency Measures Act</em> for breaking isolation requirements in order to sneak into a vaccine clinic and receive Moderna vaccine doses in Beaver Creek. (Facebook/Submitted)
Former CEO of Great Canadian Gaming, actress charged after flying to Beaver Creek for COVID-19 vaccine

Rod Baker and Ekaterina Baker were charged with two CEMA violations each

The bus stop at the corner of Industrial and Jasper Road in Whitehorse on Jan. 25. The stop will be moved approximately 80 metres closer to Quartz Road. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
UPDATED: Industrial Road bus stop to be relocated

The city has postponed the move indefinitely

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police detachment in Faro photgraphed in 2016. Faro will receive a new RCMP detachment in 2022, replacing the decades-old building currently accommodating officers. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Faro RCMP tagged for new detachment

Faro will receive a new RCMP detachment in 2022, replacing the decades-old… Continue reading

In a Jan. 18 announcement, the Yukon government said the shingles vaccine is now being publicly funded for Yukoners between age 65 and 70, while the HPV vaccine program has been expanded to all Yukoners up to and including age 26. (1213rf.com)
Changes made to shingles, HPV vaccine programs

Pharmacists in the Yukon can now provide the shingles vaccine and the… Continue reading

Parking attendant Const. Ouellet puts a parking ticket on the windshield of a vehicle in downtown Whitehorse on Dec. 6, 2018. The City of Whitehorse is hoping to write of nearly $300,000 in outstanding fees, bylaw fines and court fees, $20,225 of which is attributed to parking fines issued to non-Yukon license plates. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
City of Whitehorse could write off nearly $300,000

The City of Whitehorse could write off $294,345 in outstanding fees, bylaw… Continue reading

Grants available to address gender-based violence

Organizations could receive up to $200,000

In this illustration, artist-journalist Charles Fripp reveals the human side of tragedy on the Stikine trail to the Klondike in 1898. A man chases his partner around the tent with an axe, while a third man follows, attempting to intervene. (The Daily Graphic/July 27, 1898)
History Hunter: Charles Fripp — gold rush artist

The Alaskan coastal town of Wrangell was ill-equipped for the tide of… Continue reading

A man walks passed the polling place sign at city hall in Whitehorse on Oct. 18, 2018. While Whitehorse Mayor Dan Curtis is now setting his sights on the upcoming territorial election, other members of council are still pondering their election plans for the coming year. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Councillors undecided on election plans

Municipal vote set for Oct. 21

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decicions made by Whitehorse city council this week.

Most Read