Yukon First Nations Fight to Protect Peel River Watershed From Industrial Devastation
Another landmark constitutional case is up before the courts this week in Canada, this one by two First Nations against the Government of Yukon in the Northwest Territories who are fighting to protect the Peel Watershed from mining and other industrial development.
The battle will take place in Yukon Supreme Court from July 7 through 11 as Thomas R. Berger, attorney for Nacho Nyak Dun First Nation, Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in First Nation, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society Yukon Chapter (CPAWS Yukon) and the Yukon Conservation Society (YCS), argues for the preservation of 54,000 square kilometres of wilderness in northern Yukon’s Peel River Watershed from mining and other industrial development, the groups said in a release. They filed suit on January 27, 2014 to force the territorial government to implement a land use plan to keep the wilderness pristine.
“This plan was produced by the Peel Watershed Planning Commission after seven years of research and consultation, following a constitutionally mandated process under Yukon land claims agreements,” the plaintiffs said in a media release. “It recommends permanent protection of 55 per cent and interim protection for an additional 25 per cent, of the Peel watershed. Although the Commission’s plan is endorsed by the affected First Nations and has widespread public support, on January 21, 2014 the Government of Yukon adopted its own plan for the region, which opens up over 70 percent of the watershed to roads and industrial development.”
“Yukon Government’s unilateral decision to accept their own plan for the Peel undermines our Final Agreements,” said Nacho Nyak Dun Chief Ed Champion in the statement. “The government’s decision is also creating uncertainty for resource companies who want to do business in the Yukon, and it makes meaningful business relations between First Nations and resource companies difficult.”
“The fresh water that the seven rivers of the Peel Watershed provide is by far the most valuable resource within the Peel,” says Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Chief Eddie Taylor. “Although we wanted 100% protected, we are willing to compromise and accept the Peel Commission’s Final Recommended Peel Watershed Regional Land Use Plan. We will stand up for our rights in court - the Peel Watershed is sacred to us as it was to our ancestors, and we want it to be around for our grandchildren.”
The First Nation leaders will be joined by more than 50 elders from the Mayo, Dawson and Mackenzie Delta communities are expected to witness the court arguments.
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