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Public policy professor Ken Coates says not having a modern treaty with First Nations people is coming back to haunt the New Brunswick government. (University of Saskatchewan)

Canadian historian Ken Coates says he'll be watching history in the making as a legal case over the Peel Watershed Land Use Plan makes its way through the courts.  

Two First Nations and two environmental groups are suing the Yukon Government over what they claim is a unilateral move to re-write a negotiated land use plan.

Coates, currently at the University of Saskatchewan, says the court battle will be a watershed moment in Canadian treaty making, and set a precedent for years to come.  

But he says he's disappointed that precedent will be written in the courts rather than through negotiations.

"These are expensive processes; they frustrate people."

But Coates says he's still confident first nations will find some middle ground on the road to a true partnership with other levels of government.

"I'm hoping that we don't have to go to the courts to get there."    

Coates says one way for that to happen would be to guarantee First Nations a role in approving and monitoring industrial development

"That makes it absolutely clear that aboriginal folks will dominate assessment of monitoring and reclamation."

Either way through negotiations or litigation Coates says it is clear Yukon First Nations are helping to write a new chapter in Canadian history.

So far, no date has been set to hear the case.