Liard, Ross River bands clash over Yukon mining deals

Two Yukon First Nations will be vying for the attention of mining executives next week in Vancouver, albeit with conflicting messages.

'It might get messy,' Ross River chief says of dispute

Two Yukon First Nations will be vying for the attention of mining executives next week in Vancouver, albeit with conflicting messages.

The Liard First Nation has threatened a showdown with mining companies at the Mineral Exploration Roundup, an annual technical mineral exploration conference that begins Monday.

Chief Liard McMillan of the Watson Lake-based First Nation is demanding compensation for resource use from companies currently operating on its traditional territory in southeastern Yukon.

"The Liard First Nation intends to be more directly involved," McMillan told CBC News on Friday.

Both bands seeking compensation

But McMillan's message might hit up against that of the nearby Ross River Dena Council, which is making similar demands to the industry that it plans to voice at next week's conference.

"It might get messy," Ross River Chief Gordon Peter said. "It's going to have to be sorted out one way or another."

Both bands are part of the Kaska Dena Council, which also includes First Nations in northern B.C.

An agreement struck between the two bands several years ago gave Ross River responsibility for negotiating benefit agreements with any mining companies interested in carrying out work in Kaska territory. The Liard First Nation was given similar responsibility for all oil and gas interests.

The idea was that benefits from all those deals would be shared among all Kaska people.

But now, members of the Liard First Nation said that deal is off, as they want to negotiate their own benefit agreements with the mining companies.

Last month, McMillan threatened operators of Yukon Nevada Gold's Ketza River mine with a legal challenge of their water licence even though the mine had already negotiated a benefits agreement with the Ross River Dena.

McMillan said he would not recognize any agreements that do not include his own First Nation.

Peter accused him of simply playing hardball, adding that his First Nation could play just as rough.

"We can start sending letters to the companies that they're dealing with in the oil and gas [industry]," he said.

Ultimately though, the only way to resolve the dispute is through a referendum including all First Nations within the Kaska Dena Council's traditional territory, Peter said.