Newspaper article The Canadian Press

First Nations, Environmentalists Challenge Yukon Government in Court

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

First Nations, Environmentalists Challenge Yukon Government in Court

Article excerpt

Peel watershed case begins in Yukon


WHITEHORSE - Environmental groups and First Nations will square off against the Yukon government on Monday for a week-long legal battle over the future of the Peel River watershed.

The First Nation of Na-Cho Nyak Dun, and the Tr'ondek Hwech'in, along with the Yukon Conservation Society and the Yukon chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, filed their lawsuit in Yukon Supreme Court last February.

The case stems from the territorial government's adoption of a land-use plan for the watershed that litigants claim was unilateral and unlawful because it breached the co-operative process outlined in the territory's aboriginal land-claim settlements.

"Yukon government's unilateral decision to accept their own plan for the Peel undermines our final agreements," said Chief Ed Champion of the Na-Cho Nyak Dun. "Government's decision is also creating uncertainty for resource companies that want to do business in the Yukon, and it makes meaningful business relations between First Nations and resource companies difficult."

Karen Baltgailis, outgoing executive director of the Yukon Conservation Society, said the case "will set a precedent for how land claims are interpreted across the North. What it will determine is whether governments can simply pay lip service to the land claims agreements or whether they will actually have to listen to the spirit and intent of these agreements.

"That's important not only for First Nations but for all Yukoners because our land claims are Yukon law and they're embedded in the Canadian constitution. So it's every Yukon person's responsibility and every Canadian's responsibility to make sure that they are properly implemented."

Baltgailis also highlighted the growing importance of the 68,000-square kilometre watershed as a carbon sink and shelter for wildlife seeking refuge from climate change in the future. …

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