Former Yukon land claims negotiator 'embarrassed' by Bill S-6

More than 100 people attended a town hall Thursday night in Whitehorse to express their concerns about Bill S-6, which Yukon First Nations say undermines their Umbrella Final Agreement.

Town hall held Thursday night in Whitehorse, parliamentary hearings on Monday

Shakir Alwarid, a former chief land claims negotiator with the Yukon government, didn't have kind words for the government's move to change the Yukon Environmental and Socio-Economic Assessment Act. (Nancy Thomson/CBC)

A former chief land claims negotiator for the Yukon government said Thursday night that he's "really embarrassed" at proposed amendments to the Yukon Environmental and Socio-Economic Assessment Act (YESAA).

Shakir Alwarid made the remarks at a Whitehorse town hall regarding Bill S-6, attended by more than 100 people.

"I'm really embarrassed what the government of Yukon and federal government is doing," said Alwarid, who was chief land claims negotiator in the 1990s.

"YESAA was a major, major plank in the Yukon government, saying 'we promise you we're going to work diligently.'"

Yukon First Nations are opposed to Bill S-6, saying the proposed amendments to YESAA will undermine the Umbrella Final Agreement. The proposed amendments will set new timelines for environmental reviews and give more power to the government, allowing the federal Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development the ability to set binding policy for the board. 

After Bill S-6 passed second reading in Parliament earlier this month, the Coalition of Yukon First Nations said they would have no choice but to sue the government should the bill pass.

"We will not back down from the integrity of our agreements," said Ruth Massie, who is the Coalition's grand chief, on Thursday.

"We fought too long and too hard — and we gave up a lot." 

Massie told the crowd that First Nations don't want to sue over S-6 and that they don't want industry to leave the Yukon. However, she also said final agreements must be protected. 

'No consultation of any kind'

Graham Van Tighem, who is with the Yukon Fish and Wildlife Management Board, said that before any legislation is changed or introduced, under the terms of the Umbrella Final Agreement, "it's indicated that the minister shall consult with the board.

"The board has received no consultation on Bill S-6 of any kind," he said. "The board made a request to speak to the standing committee and we were told 'no.'"

The Coalition of Yukon First Nations used the meeting to urge attendees to come to a parliamentary hearing on Bill S-6. A full day of hearings on the bill will be held Monday in Whitehorse.