Yukon government blazes road straight into court

A ‘street fight’ between the Carcross/Tagish First Nations, the Yukon government and Quest Engineering Group has landed in Yukon Supreme…

A ‘street fight’ between the Carcross/Tagish First Nations, the Yukon government and Quest Engineering Group has landed in Yukon Supreme Court.

The First Nation claims the Yukon government violated its land claim agreements and its own laws by starting construction on a road in traditional territory without consulting the First Nation, according to a statement of claims filed in Yukon Supreme Court last month.

And, while working as a contractor for the Yukon government, Quest “trespassed” on First Nation land to clear cut trees without the First Nation’s consent.

The First Nation claims the road, which would be a second access way to the Taku subdivision, would affect Southern Lakes caribou habitat and established moose calving grounds.

The dispute began in early 2006 when Community Services Minister Glenn Hart wrote a letter to the First Nation outlining plans for the road.

In February 2006, reps from Quest Engineering entered Carcross/Tagish land and clearcut trees without the First Nation’s consent, according to court documents.

The First Nation discovered the “trespass” on February 20.

Quest caused “significant damage to the land and surrounding area and caused interference for the Carcross/Tagish First Nations’ use and peaceful enjoyment of the settlement land.”

A month later, Carcross/Tagish chief Mark Wedge went to a Tagish advisory council meeting where Quest’s project manger “publicly apologized for the cutline,” according to court documents.

And Wedge wrote a letter to Hart, which said the First Nation was “not in support of developing a second access road into the Taku subdivision in particular because it would affect the critical habitat of the Southern Lakes caribou.

“Both governments understood at the time of the land claim negotiation that the area would be protected and there would be a ‘no development zone’ to assist in caribou recovery,” wrote Wedge.

At that time, Carcross/Tagish also invited the Yukon government to resolve the issue through mediation.

In late March 2006, Yukon Premier Dennis Fentie issued a letter of apology to Wedge that “acknowledged the trespass and cutting down of trees on Carcross/Tagish First Nations’ settlement lands.”

Three months later, in June 2006, Wedge received another letter from Hart that said the government was moving ahead with road construction.

Now the First Nation is claiming the government was negligent and breached its duties to the First Nation.

The First Nation and its citizens “have incurred costs and suffered losses and harm as a result of the defendant’s breach of its fiduciary duty,” according to court documents.

The First Nation lost timber, harvesting opportunities, recreation and tourism opportunities and settlement land values, it claims.

The First Nation signed its final land claim and self-government agreements in 2005, and they came into effect in early 2006.

Under the agreements Carcross/Tagish retained control of approximately 1,554 square kilometres of settlement lands throughout its traditional territory.