In exchange for ceding over 95 per cent of their traditional territories as part of a modern-day treaty, eight First Nations across Yukon have established the legal right to have a say in the future of that land through the establishment of a Land Use Planning (LUP) process. Three Yukon Peel Watershed First Nations, along with the Tetlit Gwich’in of Fort McPherson NWT and other stakeholders, invested thousands of hours in participating in this process. Upon its completion, the Peel Watershed Planning Commission, tasked with developing the LUP, recommended that 80 per cent of the Peel Watershed should be protected.
Shockingly, the Yukon Government violated this agreement when it unilaterally proclaimed a Land Use Plan for the Peel Watershed that would have opened up 70 per cent of the Peel Watershed to mining and industrial development, breaking agreements with Indigenous Peoples.
First Nations have taken the Yukon Government to court over its violation of this agreement. They have won in a series of lower-court challenges but need funding to deal with a Supreme Court appeal to be heard in spring 2017. Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society and Yukon Conservation Society (http://www.protectpeel.ca/) are also appellants in the case.
The Peel Watershed case was initially heard by the Yukon Supreme Court in 2014 and then again by the Yukon Court of Appeal in 2015. The interpretation of Chapter 11 of the Yukon First Nation Final Agreements is central to the case. Both Yukon courts found that the Government of Yukon failed to honour its obligations under the Final Agreements during the Peel Watershed land use planning process.
However, the Court of Appeal ruled the Government of Yukon has the right, at the end of the day, to reject the entire Peel Watershed Final Recommended Plan. From the perspective of the First Nations and conservation groups, this would render the whole land use planning process under the First Nation Final Agreements meaningless.
This legal challenge to the Yukon government has implications not just for the three Nations and the Peel Watershed but for all land use planning in the Yukon Territory, and the interpretation of First Nations treaty rights, especially the right to participate in the management of public resources. If the Yukon Appeal Court judgment is allowed to stand, it means that the parties can go through the years of study, expense and consultation, only to have the entire effort summarily dismissed at the whim of the government.
“If allowed to stand, the reasoning of the Yukon Court of Appeal will inevitably undermine the careful balance between the respective roles in future decision-making of non-Aboriginal Governments and Aboriginal peoples that has been so assiduously negotiated and set out in the Yukon First Nation Final Agreements, and in similar modern treaties across Canada. For the future of the Peel Watershed and for all land use planning to come in the Yukon, we are respectfully requesting that the Supreme Court of Canada set aside the judgment of the Court of Appeal of Yukon, and restore the judgment of the Supreme Court of Yukon.” – Thomas Berger QC, legal counsel for the three Nations.
The three First Nations are heading to the Supreme Court of Canada on March 22, 2017. This will be the culmination of a three-year legal battle between a coalition of affected First Nations and environmental groups, against the Yukon government over the future of the Peel Watershed and the integrity of the land use planning provisions in Yukon First Nation Final Agreements.
The Peel watershed is the homeland of four First Nations who have been sustained by the land since time immemorial: the First Nation of Na-Cho Nyak Dun, the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in, Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation, and the Tetlit Gwich’in Council. Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society-Yukon and the Yukon Conservation Society have been working for many years to protect the Peel. The two organizations are also parties to this legal challenge and RAVEN is thrilled to be partnering with them on this campaign.
In addition, Gwich’in Tribal Council and the Council of Yukon First Nations will be appearing in the case as an intervenor.
The land is pristine, beautiful, historically untouched by industrial-scale resource extraction. First Nations have a long history of using the area. Unless the Yukon government is prevented from being allowed to simply throw out the Land Use Planning agreements, land use planning in the Yukon becomes absolutely meaningless. A government’s sidelining of First Nations and community stakeholder input into land use planning would have implications across Canada. It would undermine the ability of First Nations to participate meaningfully in decisions about their traditional territories and relegate their stewardship knowledge and caretaker values to the margins.
See full background here: http://protectpeel.ca/background.html
The Supreme Court of Canada hearing on this case will be heard March 22nd 2017. Our aim is to raise $210,000 by the end of the fiscal year (March 31). Every little bit helps us meet our goal!
The donations raised will go directly to cover costs of legal research, preparing arguments, and court time.
Funds raised will be distributed equally to the three Nations involved in the legal challenges.
To ensure that their rights were being respected and that the planning commission’s recommendations would be upheld, the First Nations partnered with two Yukon-based conservation organizations – Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society-Yukon and the Yukon Conservation Society – to take the Yukon Government to the Yukon Supreme Court. They won. However, the subsequent judgment by the Yukon Court of Appeal left a loophole that would allow the Yukon Government to modify the plan to increase development in the Peel.
In December 2015, the First Nations of Na-Cho Nyak Dun, Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in, and Vuntut Gwitchin, along with the two conservation organizations, applied for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada. In June 2016, leave to appeal was granted and the case will be heard on March 22 2017.