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'Consultation utterly failed': Na-Cho Nyäk Dun sues Yukon for approving mineral exploration

The Yukon government breached its duty to consult the First Nation of Na-Cho Nyäk Dun by unilaterally approving a mineral exploration project in the Beaver River watershed, according to a petition filed to the Yukon Supreme Court Monday.

The First Nation filed a petition to the Yukon Supreme Court Monday

The 5,048 square-kilometre Beaver River watershed region in north-central Yukon is home to abundant wildlife. (CPAWS Yukon)

The Yukon government breached its duty to consult the First Nation of Na-Cho Nyäk Dun by unilaterally approving a mineral exploration project in the Beaver River watershed, according to a petition filed to the Yukon Supreme Court Monday.

"We think that consultation utterly failed here," said Nuri Frame, the lawyer representing Na-Cho Nyäk Dun.

"You can't consult if you're unwilling to sit and talk to the rights holder, which is the community, which is the people, which is elders."

Na-Cho Nyäk Dun is suing the Yukon government for signing off on a mineral exploration project in its traditional territory, located roughly 100 kilometres north of Mayo. The territorial government approved it on Feb. 19.

Vancouver-based Metallic Minerals Corporation, the company behind the project, has plans to scour part of the region for mostly lead, silver and zinc deposits over a 10-year period.

According to the company's proposal, the project comprises 52 claims that amount to roughly 1,087 hectares of land.

Consulting Na-Cho Nyäk Dun citizens would have provided the Yukon government with insight into whether the project should have moved forward, Frame said. Instead, the territorial government denied "multiple" requests made by Na-Cho Nyäk Dun for direct community consultation, he said.

"We see this as an appalling failure of consultation," Frame said. "You can't have consultation if your mind is made up before having the conversation."

Yukon's Department of Justice declined comment because the matter is before the court.

Greg Johnson, president and CEO of Metallic Minerals, said he's happy to be patient until the matter straightened out.

"We understand that this is always a process and our hope would be that the First Nation and Yukon government are able to work through this process," Johnson said.

"We'll try to support that in any way we can."

Decades-long wait for completed land use plan

Na-Cho Nyäk Dun has been waiting for a completed land use plan since 1993, when the First Nation signed its final agreement.

Failure to complete a land use plan is an "empty shell of a treaty promise," the petition states.

"Absent a fulsome Crown commitment to treaty implementation, First Nations—and all Canadians—risk a return to the grim reality of the colonial past, with the commitments to protecting Indigenous interests, fulfilling treaty promises, and advancing reconciliation as nothing more than empty words," it states.

Lewis Rifkind, mining analyst with the Yukon Conservation Society, said he's pleased to see Na-Cho Nyäk Dun taking the Yukon government to task in court. (Dave Croft/CBC)

Frame said giving the keys to this company to explore for minerals will "dictate" what happens in the Beaver River watershed, known as "Tsé Tagé."

"This isn't just about one mining project or one watershed," Frame said.

"This is about really ensuring that the Crown, Yukon government, lives up to the terms of the treaty … Right now the treaty is on the page, but it feels like business as usual on the land. That needs to come to an end."

A sub-regional land use plan was initiated in the watershed in response to ATAC Resources' mining access road, which was rejected in December.

According to Na-Cho Nyäk Dun's petition, the smaller land use plan, which has yet to be finalized, is nothing but a "postage stamp."

Regional land use plans, which are much larger in scope, stem directly from final agreements.

Lewis Rifkind, mining analyst with the Yukon Conservation Society, said he's pleased to see Na-Cho Nyäk Dun taking the Yukon government to task in court.

The sub-regional land use plan was launched to get ahead of proposed development and possibly protect parts of the area, he said.

The Yukon government undermined this goal by approving the exploration project, Rifkind added.

"We're still approving resource extraction before the land use plans are finalized," Rifkind said. "It's completely negating any and all environmental considerations."

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