Yukon letters

This week’s mailbox: Kudz Ze Kayah used to be caribou country

Kudz Ze Kayah: Used to be caribou country

“Kudz Ze Kayah” translates to “caribou country” in Kaska. Let that sink in for a second. The non-Indigenous mining company, BMC Minerals, chose to name their mining project the very thing it will compromise: Kaska caribou country. They didn’t name their project “caribou country” in English, either.

Language matters. It can be used to conceal, minimize, and mutualize violence. For example, it is not accurate to say that two people are “fighting” if one person punches or kicks another person – that’s assault. By labelling it as “fighting”, we conceal the dynamics of violence, including considerations of responsibility. Gaslighting, a tool of psychological abuse, relies on language that conceals, minimizes and mutualizes violence as a way to discredit a person (or a group of people’s) accurate perception of reality.

Another example of how language conceals and mutualizes violence exists in the Criminal Code of Canada. Rape, according to the Code, is termed “sexual assault”. Yet many advocates continue to point out that sex, by definition, is a consensual act, while rape, by definition, is a non-consensual act. By continuing to call rape “sexual” assault, we not only conceal its violence, but we insinuate that it is consensual (i.e. mutual). When a judge or jury is trying the facts of a rape case, the use of minimizing and mutualizing language conceals the violence of rape and has been linked to more lenient sentences, dismissals and acquittals.

Enter Kudz Ze Kayah. By using Kaska instead of English, BMC Minerals uses language to suggest mutuality in the development and existence of the project from Kaska peoples, despite continued resistance from the Liard First Nation and Ross River Dena Council. By calling it “caribou country”, its name conceals the inevitable destruction of caribou country near where the proposed project is.

Why did BMC Minerals choose “Kudz Ze Kayah” for the name of their project? Are they trying to falsely signal “reconciliation”, as they actively undermine the sovereignty and constitutionally-protected rights of Kaska people? Was the choice to call it “Kudz Ze Kayah” an attempt to conceal that which will be destroyed (caribou country), and make it seem like it was a mutual decision to exterminate the Finlayson caribou herd? Are they oblivious to the cruelty of choosing a name that seems to want to manage how the Kaska-speaking people will remember what used to be there even as they undertake actions to speed its erasure? Given the evidence that the misuse of language can alter trial outcomes, did this misuse of language influence YESAB’s Executive Committee assessment of the project’s risks and subsequent recommendations? Did the misuse of language affect the decision body’s determination to move forward with the project?

I don’t speak Kaska, and I’m not a Kaska person. But I do know that language conceals, minimizes, and mutualizes violence. With this in mind, the BMC Minerals project would be more accurately named “Used To Be Caribou Country”.

Aja Mason was a volunteer with Court Watch Yukon, a project aimed at analysing courtroom discourse in the Yukon, before she took on the role of Executive Director at the Yukon Status of Women Council.

Letters to the editor