More First Nations join Peel River watershed appeal

Two more First Nations have joined the legal battle against the Yukon government and its land use plans for the Peel River watershed. The Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation and the Gwich'in Tribal Council want to appear before the Yukon Court of Appeal.

Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation and the Gwich'in Tribal Council will speak to appeal court

The Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation and the Gwich'in Tribal Council have joined the fight for the Peel River watershed, registering as interveners in appeal court. (Juri Peepre)

Two additional First Nations have joined the legal battle against the Yukon government and its land use plans for the Peel River watershed. 

The logos of the Vuntut Gwitchin and Gwich'in Tribal Council. (CBC)
The Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation, based in Old Crow, Yukon, and the Gwich'in Tribal Council, based in the Mackenzie Delta region of the Northwest Territories, have been granted status to speak to an appeal court.

In 2014 the Supreme Court of Yukon ruled in favour of the First Nation of Na-Cho Nyäk Dun and the Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in, saying the Yukon government had failed to respect the terms of a consultation process. 

The Yukon government is appealing the case.

Yukon premier says appeal will continue

The First Nations' statements were discussed May 25 in Yukon's legislative assembly. The territory's Liberal leader, Sandy Silver, asked the Premier if the government would now drop its appeal. 

Pasloski said the appeal is unchanged.
Yukon Premier Darrell Pasloski said Monday in the legislative assembly that the government would not drop its appeal, saying "our legal advice was that we had a strong case." (Philippe Morin/CBC)

"Our legal advice was that we had a strong case for appeal. Nevertheless we went to the First Nations to pursue an out-of-court arrangement that everybody could live with. We did this because our government would prefer an out-of-court decision on this issue. However, First Nations were not interested in a out-of-court arrangement," he said.

The premier added the appeal's goal is to "achieve clarity on the land-use planning process and assurance that democratically-elected, public governments have final say over what happens on public land." 

 Silver pressed the government on the cost of the appeal.

The premier did not provide an estimate.

"As premier, I spoke to the chiefs of the First Nations. Our lawyers spoke to the First Nation lawyers and our government staff spoke with First Nations staff. In all cases, the answer to our offer was no," Pasloski said. 

Neither side in favour of third intervener 

The Yukon Court of Appeal is also considering an application from a third intervener.

The Yukon Land Use Planning Council, which prepared the original land use plan for the Peel watershed, has also asked to appear before the appeal court. 

George Nassiopoulis, who is with the Council, says they can assist with interpreting facts of the case. 

"We're not here to support or affect any decision of the lower court," says Nassiopoulis. "We're not here to pick sides. We're just here to get clarification on the role of Council."

Both sides in the fight oppose the Planning Council's presence in the appeal court, with the Yukon government and the coalition of First Nations and environmental groups both saying it will be a distraction.

The court says it will rule on the Council's application within two weeks.

The Yukon Court of Appeal will hear the case in August. 


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