North

Next steps in Peel watershed land use planning decidedly murky

The dust has settled following this week's ruling from the Yukon Court of Appeal but it's not clear what the landscape ahead will actually look like.

Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in says going back to the table will be challenging because First Nations feel badly burned

The Yukon Court of Appeal's ruling on the Peel watershed did not present a clear 'win' for either side. (cbc)

The dust has settled following this week's ruling from the Yukon Court of Appeal but it's not clear what the landscape ahead will actually look like.

The court found that the Yukon government had not honoured its treaty obligations to the land use planning process, as set out in the final land claims agreements.

It also found that the Yukon government has the final authority over what happens on Crown land but — and it's a big but — the government can't act with impunity in the land use planning process. 

The court ordered the government back to the drawing board: a long way back, to the point when it received the final recommendations from the independent land use planning commission.

The appeal court admonished the government to keep the "honour of the Crown" firmly in mind as the planning resumes, but what will happen next is decidedly murky. 

"In theory, the court has ordered that the parties return back to that stage, in order to correct that error. It's up to the parties to determine how they wish to proceed from this point forward," says Mark Pindera, assistant deputy minister with Yukon's justice department.

"If the parties wish to return to the process, as it's constituted under the final agreement, then there clearly is a role of the land use planning commission. That would have to be seriously looked at, as to how to bring it into effect."

Sitting down at the table could be awkward

First Nations involved in the process are also taking a wait-and-see approach.

'I think it's a little bit too late to start sitting down and thinking that there's going to be a trustworthy relationship moving forward,' says Roberta Joseph, chief of the Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in. (Facebook)

Roberta Joseph, chief of the Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in, says resuming the Peel planning will be challenging because First Nations feel so badly burned by the Yukon government.

"The government of-the-day just seems to have a one-track mind and direction. I think it's a little bit too late to start sitting down and thinking that there's going to be a trustworthy relationship moving forward."

Bill Gallagher, who specializes in aboriginal and resource law in Waterloo, Ont., says the court has sent a clear message to Yukon premier Darrell Pasloski and his government.

"This is an admonition. It's from the chief justice and he's telling them to get with the program and he's done it in under three months," he notes. "They have to sit down and address that key arrangement that there is a joint management of Yukon resources under the land claims agreements."

About the Author

Raised in Ross River, Yukon, Nancy Thomson is a graduate of Ryerson University's journalism program. Her first job with CBC Yukon was in 1980, when she spun vinyl on Saturday afternoons. She rejoined CBC Yukon in 1993, and focuses on First Nations issues and politics. You can reach her at nancy.thomson@cbc.ca.

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