Dawson City miners wary of UNESCO World Heritage bid

'There could possibly be a small benefit in tourism, but that seems to be on the backs of the miners and the industrial community,' said one placer miner at a weekend meeting.

Desigination would see Klondike area recognised by the United Nations for its history and culture

Dawson City (Shutterstock / Natalia Bratslavsky)

Some Dawson City placer miners are opposed to World Heritage status for parts of the Klondike, despite a letter from three levels of government pledging mineral exploration and development will not be affected by the designation.

The miners raised their objections at a public meeting in Dawson City over the weekend.

Dozens of people showed up at the Klondike Institute of Art and Culture (KIAC) Ballroom in Dawson City early Saturday morning for the meeting. (Dave Croft/CBC)

An application for World Heritage status was made in January to the United Nations Educational Social and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), by a committee that includes representatives of the Yukon Chamber of Mines and the Klondike Placer Miners' Association.

If granted, it would make the Klondike an area officially recognized by the United Nations for the history of the Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in First Nation, the 1898 Gold Rush, and the activities of the people currently living there.

A decision is expected before July 2018.

In a letter, Dawson City Mayor Wayne Potoroka, Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in First Nation Chief Roberta Joseph and Yukon Premier Sandy Silver promise that areas inside the heritage site will not be regulated any differently than areas outside the site.

Dawson City placer miner Marty Knutson says World Heritage status would bring nothing but problems to Klondike miners. (Dave Croft/CBC)

But for some miners and their supporters, there's nothing in the designation for them except the possibility they could eventually be forced out of business, said Dawson City placer miner Marty Knutson.

"I think my big takeaway on the UNESCO proposal here is that there could possibly be a small benefit in tourism, but that seems to be on the backs of the miners and the industrial community," Knutson said at the weekend meeting.

Knutson said he believes people opposed to resource development will try to find a way to use both the heritage designation and Yukon's existing environmental screening process to block mining projects.

"I mean, we've got enough of that already. I don't need anymore," he said.

The historic Palace Grand theatre in Dawson City was built in 1899 and is still a hub for music and theatre. (CBC)

'Putting Dawson on the world map'

Knutson says UNESCO is opposed to resource development in general, and that makes him even more skeptical.

Chief Joseph, however, said after the meeting that people should judge the application on the facts. She added that it's not about mining, and it's not about the First Nation's citizens.

"It's about putting Dawson on the world map and for ourselves," she said.

Chief Roberta Joseph, centre, says local First Nation citizens don't want their lives made any more complicated by World Heritage status than miners do. (Dave Croft/CBC)

"For the Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in, we went through a really complex consultation with citizens in order for us to have this approved for a nomination application," said Joseph.

"We wanted to make sure it's not going to affect... it's not going to change things in Dawson," she said.

Joseph said members of the First Nation don't want World Heritage status to further complicate their lives any more than the wary miners do.

"For us, the largest landowners in Dawson City, we want to ensure that we aren't having to pay double for building our homes, building our infrastructure, building our capital. So we're not expecting others to do the same as well," she said.

Molly Shore, one of the lead organizers of the initiative, said the UNESCO application makes clear that the community wants a "living cultural site", that includes the continuation of active placer mining and traditional Indigenous activities on the land.

She said if UNESCO cannot accept that, then it won't approve the application.


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