The Yukon government has issued its statement of defence regarding the Peel River watershed land-use plan.

Peel River. Credit: Mhalifu.

The statement comes after a lawsuit was issued on January 27 by two Yukon First Nations and two environmental organizations. The Tr’ondek Hwech’in First Nation, the First Nation of Na-cho Nyak Dun, the Yukon Conservation Society, and the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society say the plan is a violation of land claims signed with First Nations and are asking the Yukon Supreme Court to throw out the plan.

In the 11-page statement of defence, the government insists it fulfilled its obligations under the Yukon’s aboriginal land claim settlements when it adopted the plan for the Peel River watershed.

“The plan recognizes that activity that’s well managed and conservation can co-exist,” says Bob Holmes, director of the mineral resources branch for the Yukon government’s department of energy mines and resources. “We really have to look at what’s proposed. Companies have to propose work, it has to be looked at, accessed and permitted…but it’s not a closed door.”

Prior to the announcement of the plan, the Peel River Planning Commission was in talks with First Nations and the public for more than five years. The recommendations released by the commission called for 80 per cent of the region to be withdrawn from industrial development, including mineral staking. Ultimately, the recommendations were rejected by the Yukon government because the suggested area was deemed too large. The current plan includes 70,000 square kilometres and 71 per cent of the watershed region.

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Protests have been held in multiple cities in the Yukon (Mayo, Dawson City, Haines Junction, and Whitehorse) and in the Northwest Territories (Inuvik, Fort McPherson, and Aklavik).

“[…] we do not want to see mining in the Peel watershed,” said Eddie Taylor, chief of the Tr’ondek Hwech’in First Nation. “To us that land is sacred and should be preserved for future generations. As our elders say, the Peel is our church, our university and our breadbasket.”

The Yukon government’s statement of defence can be viewed here:

http://www.gov.yk.ca/news/pdf/SCNo13-A0142-StatementofDefence(filed2014Feb18).pdf

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