Wednesday, December 19, 2012

YG takes Peel road show north in January

The Yukon government has released dates for its remaining community meetings on the Peel watershed land use plan.

Old Crow is the first stop. On Jan. 14 officials will host a lunch at noon and hold an open house from 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the community hall.

The Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation has two site specific claims in the northwest corner of the Peel watershed, but of greater concern is the Peel's role as the wintering ground for the Porcupine caribou herd.

Aklavik, N.W.T. is next on the list. The community of 550 is located on the Peel channel of the Mackenzie Delta. Many of its Gwich'in residents have ties to the watershed to the south.

The government will hold a two-hour open house there on Jan. 15, beginning at 1 p.m. at the First Nation offices' boardroom. 

The Gwich'in of Aklavik are one of four groups that make up the N.W.T.'s Gwich'in Tribal Council. The other three are based in Fort McPherson, Tsiigehtchic and Inuvik.  

The Yukon government will visit Tsiigehtchic, formerly known as Arctic Red River, on Jan. 22. Lunch will be served from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. and the open house will run from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the Chief Paul Niditchie School.

The meeting in Fort McPherson, a community of about 800 located on the banks of the lower Peel River, will be held on Jan. 23 at the Johnny Charlie Hall. There'll be lunch from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. and an open house from 1 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. 

The largely Tetlit Gwich'in community has the strongest ties to the watershed. It has a rich history in the region and still relies heavily on fish from the river and caribou from the land.

The final community open house will be held in Inuvik on Jan. 24. It will be at the Mackenzie Delta Hotel's conference room from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m.

The government has already held open houses in Whitehorse, Mayo and Dawson.

The public has until Feb. 25 to submit comments on the final recommended plan.  

Monday, December 17, 2012

Tireless Peel promoter awarded for work

Yukoner Mike Dehn has won the 2012 Gerry Couture Stewardship Award for his years of “unflagging work” to protect the Peel watershed.
Mike Dehn on the Wind River.
The annual award is handed out by the Yukon Conservation Society to recognize the personal dedication required to conserve and manage the territory’s natural resources.
The $1,000-award is provided by an anonymous donor inspired by Dawson City resident Gerry Couture  - his fearlessness and persistence in the face of adversity as well as his creativity, innovation and curmudgeonlyness.
Dehn is best known as the executive director of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society – Yukon chapter, a position he held for the past five years before recently retiring due to ill health.
During his time at the helm, the Peel has become a household word and the Peel commission has produced a plan to protect 80 per cent of the watershed.
“Throughout a long battle with cancer, Mike continued to work long hours, travel to the Peel communities and provide leadership in the campaign to achieve protection in the Peel watershed,” said YCS executive director Karen Baltgailis in a news release.
“Mike sometimes appears gruff and curmudgeonly, but underneath is a warm heart and great dedication to the environment and people of the Yukon. We have all experienced his charm, sense of humor and compassion as well as his dedication to protecting the Peel watershed.”
Like Couture, who has often found himself at the centre of controversy for speaking up change, Dehn has remained undaunted by opposition and seemingly insurmountable odds, said Baltgailis.
Dehn has worked in conservation biology, economics, policy development and communications. He has lived in both Whitehorse and smaller communities and done fieldwork in the Yukon, N.W.T. and Alaska.
“He loved to get out into the wilderness that he worked so hard to protect – hunting and fishing, hiking and back-country skiing and canoeing," she said.
Dehn is deeply missed by his colleagues, she said, but he continues to serve as an inspiration to them.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Peel makes political closing time

Dozens of Peel watershed supporters made it through security to fill the benches of the Yukon legislature’s public gallery Thursday.
They wanted to send a message to the government one more time.
Stripped of any cell phones and Protect the Peel t-shirts they might have been carrying by two burly security guards at the entrance, they took their seats and tried to be quiet.
But they had a hard time containing themselves once the political wrangling got into full swing.
They couldn’t resist clapping when they liked what was being said and heckling when they didn’t. Several tried standing to show off the Protect Democracy, the Plan, the Peel t-shirts they were wearing but were immediately threatened with eviction.
The sound of horns honking in support of the Peel, by drivers passing by outside, also added a little spark to the normally staid chamber.
NDP Mayo-Tatchun MLA Jim Tredger led Question Period off with a little primer on the Peel plan.
“Yukoners from all walks of life participated in good faith in the Peel watershed land use planning process. First Nations participated in good faith. Thousands of hours and over $1 million was spent to arrive at a final recommended Peel Watershed Regional Land Use Plan,” he began.
Now the Yukon Party government has turned its back on all that and written its own plan, said Tredger.
He then asked Energy, Mines and Resources Minister Brad Cathers to drop the new plan and confine the current consultations to the final recommended plan.
Cathers totally ignored the request. Instead he launched into a speech on the 2010 Peel consultations, dismissing the results because only a small percentage of Yukoners took part and then deriding the NDP for its math.
Undeterred, Tredger carried on.
The government’s “twisting of the final agreement process” has not only rankled the affected First Nations, the opposition and the public - even industry has expressed doubts and concerns, he said.
“Now the Yukon Land Use Planning Council has said the government’s sell job of the radically amended plan is contrary to the final agreements and is doing irreparable harm to land use planning in the Yukon,” said Tredger.
“Why is this government so determined to undermine the land use planning and economic certainty by creating confrontation, division and expensive court battles when any good government would work co-operatively to build a stronger and more sustainable future for your children?”
Again Cathers dodged the question, preferring to attack the NDP and repeat his earlier comments about the 2010 consultations.
Refusing to be bullied, Tredger tried another tact.
The Peel is a jewel that could provide an opportunity to support economic diversification and sustainable development if it's protected, he said.
“Instead we are faced with division, costly court battles and economic uncertainty,” he said. “Violating final agreements, pushing First Nation governments and all Yukoners to court does nothing good for our economy. It is unnecessary and inexcusable.
“This Yukon Party government is abandoning land use planning,” he said, and again asked the government to withdraw its “backdoor attempt to unilaterally rewrite the Peel land use plan.”
For a third time Cathers refused to deal with the question and instead took aim at wilderness tourism in the Peel.
He then pulled out a February 2011 news release which said the government didn't like the earlier recommended plan.
And finally he brought up the election.
“I’ve reminded members of the premier’s statement at the leaders’ forum during the 2011 election campaign and the very strong criticisms of the plan, including the characterization about the financial costs of implementing the recommended plan and characterizing it as picking winners and losers,” Cathers said.
“We are continuing to follow the process. We are continuing to follow our commitments in the 2011 election campaign. “
This was the last day of this sitting.
Before the afternoon was done the government had also passed the controversial oil and gas act amendments. The changes take away the Kaska’s veto over activity in the southeast Yukon and also opens the door to fracking in the territory.

Picturing the Peel protest

Supporters of Peel watershed protection took to the streets in front of the Yukon legislature Thursday to draw attention to the issue. Lots of motorists honked as requested.


Demostrators dressed up the outside of the Yukon legislature Thursday.

What's a Peel watershed protest without a caribou.

Security guards shake down dozens of Peel supporters before they enter the legislature's public gallery. No cell phones and no Peel protection t-shirts are allowed to be carried inside.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Peel demo to mark legislature closing

Life at the Yukon legislature will end Thursday much as it began in late October.
Dozens of people are expected to crowd into the public gallery, quietly peering down on the final performance of the year by the Yukon’s 19 MLAs.
The gaudy chamber makes the perfect backdrop for what’s often mistaken as Theatre of the Absurd.
The eight MLAs on the one side (the opposition) ask questions of the 10 MLAs on the other (the government) through the speaker, who is the guy perched on the throne in the middle. The government MLAs usually respond by first berating the questioner, then discrediting the question and finally filling the allotted "answer" time with meaningless blather.
It can be entertaining or depressing, depending on the depth of your faith in democracy.
The wooden balcony seats come cheap, as in no admission, but they don’t come easy.  Just ask a group of high school students and their parents who received a written dressing down from the speaker after a recent visit.
The message to the peanuts in the gallery is simple: sit down and shut up. No cat calls. No signs. Even flashing the front of your Protect: Democracy. The Plan. The Peel t-shirt may be frowned upon by the powers that be.
That would distract the MLAs as they pass notes and knowing nods, all the while keeping one ear to the verbal sparring on a wide range of topics from the Peel to fracking to stripping the Kaska of their oil and gas veto.
The Dec. 13 closing day “fill the gallery” demonstration begins at 12:30 in the foyer of the Main Government Building on Second Avenue in downtown Whitehorse.
When the doors to the legislative assembly swing open for business at 12:45 p.m., it will move into the public gallery to watch Question Period when it begins at 1 p.m.
This will be the fourth such demonstration at the legislature this year.
The first two were in response to the government’s February announcement that it was punting the final recommended Peel plan and crafting its own.
When it released said "plan" and kicked off the last round of public consultations in late October, it drew political heat anew.
By the time the fun and games wrap up for good late Thursday afternoon, there’s not likely to be many happy holiday hugs and kind wishes exchanged between the two sides.
When they return to the legislature in the spring, consultations on the Peel should be all but completed.
The spotlight will shifted to the hundreds of newly-released comments the government is now receiving from the public on the Peel, but withholding until late February or March.
And the Peel land use planning debacle will slowly wending its way to the nearest courthouse.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Yukon explorer CNOOC seals tar sands deal

The Chinese state-owned oil giant now working in northern Yukon is poised to become a big player in Alberta’s tar sands.
The China National Offshore Oil Corporation, or CNOOC,  just got the go-ahead from Ottawa to take over Nexen, a Canadian tar sands producer.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper rubber-stamped the controversial deal despite strenuous objections from many, including some Conservatives who have reservations about China owning a big chunk of the oil patch.
Amnesty International Canada also raised concerns about CNOOC’s human rights record.
There were no such headlines or public controversy in 2011 when CNOOC quietly acquired 60 per cent of Calgary-based Northern Cross Yukon.
Established in 1994 by Richard Wyman and David Thompson, Northern Cross had 15 permits to explore 1.3 million acres of Yukon land. But the clock was ticking on its six-year permits, which the company had promised to spend about $20 million exploring.
Along came CNOOC with both the money and know-how to conduct the work now currently underway in the Eagle Plain and Peel basins.
Northern Cross did get some local press earlier this year when it wanted to use hydraulic fracturing. It later retracted the request after it came under fire from those opposed to fracking in the territory.
But the issue is bound to resurface.
Changes to the oil and gas act the government is now ramming through will pave the way for fracking regulations to be developed.
CNOOC is owned by the communist government of China. It’s the country’s third biggest oil company.
Following news that Ottawa had approved the CNOOC-Nexen deal, a coalition of groups concerned about human rights in China and Tibet issued a statement denouncing the deal.
“There have been credible allegations that CNOOC has been associated with human rights violations in Tibet and Myanmar (Burma) and also with respect to Falun Gong practitioners employed by the company,” said the coalition, which includes Amnesty International.
“The Chinese government itself continues to be responsible for widespread and systematic human rights violations through the country,” it said.
Related stories:

Peel plan 'off the rails': planning council

The current “fiasco” with the Peel plan is threatening the credibility of land use planning all over the Yukon, says the territory’s planning council.
“People have to have confidence that the time and money invested in the planning process is going to be worth it,” chair Ian Robertson said during the Yukon Land Use Planning Council’s regular meeting in Whitehorse Friday.
“The credibility of doing regional planning is now suspect,” he said.
The council now needs to pinpoint exactly where and how the Peel plan went “off the rails” so it can figure out what repairs are needed.
“The sides shouldn’t be so far apart by now,” said Ron Cruikshank, the council’s executive director.
By the time a plan reaches the “final recommended” stage, the major differences should have been ironed out, he said. The Yukon and First Nations’ governments should simply be fine tuning minor details.
Instead, the territory’s trying to unilaterally write a whole new plan from scratch and the four First Nations are threatening to take the mess to court.
What the government's doing is illegal because it violates the Umbrella Final Agreement, say the Na-Cho Nyak Dun, Tr’ondek Hwech’in, Vuntut Gwitchin and the Gwich’in Tribal Council.
The final recommended Peel plan is the result of seven years of research and consultation by the Peel planning commission at a cost of $1.5 million.  Land use planning is a requirement under the Yukon’s modern-day treaty.
Robertson, who is a professional planner with decades of northern experience, says it looks like the First Nations have a strong court case.
“There is enough evidence, that’s well documented, to show that they [Yukon government] have not followed the spirit, if not the intent, of the UFA,” he said.
According to the process, the government is supposed to be consulting only on the final recommended plan. Once that’s over, it can decide whether to accept, reject or modify it.
“The modifications should stem from the consultations,” said Cruikshank.
Instead the government is consulting on the plan and its modifications all at the same time.
It’s also trying to turn back time. Its four “concepts” are basically scenarios and the Peel commission already put those forward in early 2009. It then produced a draft plan, a recommended plan and a final recommended plan, with consultation done all along the way.
“Are they [the government] planning to take those concepts and develop a draft plan now,” said Cruikshank. 
And will that draft go out for public consultation.
“If they are following the process, they have to, since the concepts have been developed with no public involvement,” he said.
The council needs to do a rigorous examination of the new concepts, but the government hasn't supplied enough details for it to do that, said Cruikshank.
As for the new land use designations, the council has a big problem with the government’s use of the term Restricted Use Wilderness Area or RUWA.  Industrial development, such as mines and roads, would be allowed throughout this zone.
“The word wilderness is not appropriate for the zone,” he said.
And then there’s the government’s colour scheme.
Robertson said the government is  “dicking around all over the place” with the Peel plan and the colours are just part of the confusion it’s created.
A lay person can’t possibly absorb information from 20 different maps, commit it to memory and then try to piece it all together, he said.
There should be one map that shows all the values in the region so people can understand it, he said.
There also needs to be a clear implementation plan if the government hopes to regain the public’s trust, he said.
When land use planning in the Yukon first got underway “the resource industry wasn’t too concerned about it because it wasn’t going to play,” Robertson said.
It didn’t think it had to because it could go through the back door to government, he said.
Even after it was persuaded to come to the table, it didn’t take it too seriously because the message from government was “Don’t worry boys, we’ll look after you,” he said.
But that’s no way to produce a successful plan, he said.
Nobody should be allowed to “come in through the back door” and everyone should have to put all their cards on the table, he said.
Council member Shirlee Frost, a member of the Vuntut Gwitchin, is concerned about the division the government seems to be creating along racial lines.
“What I’m concerned about is the separation of First Nations and the public,” said Frost.
The government’s literature makes it clear that only three per cent of the Peel belongs to First Nations while the rest is public and under its control, she said.
It’s as if they don’t think First Nations are also members of the public, she said.
Under the land claim agreements, First Nations were supposed to be partners in the planning process so there would be no surprises at the end, she said.
“In the Peel process, it has failed miserably, “ she said.
It’s also ironic that the government seems to have lots of money to promote its new “concepts” while the Peel commission was always forced to pinch every penny, she said.
The third council member, Mel Stehelin, was expected to attend, but he didn’t show up. Nor did the Yukon government send its Peel officials to hear what the council had to say.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Dawson blasts government's Peel plans

DAWSON CITY – Just hours after Yukon government workers had packed up their Peel maps and heaved a huge sigh of relief that they’d survived seven days of public grilling, a 5.1 magntitude earthquake rattled the mountains in the heart of the watershed.
The second shaker to strike the region since consultations began in late October, it seemed like a fitting end to the government’s frenetic first phase of gathering public feedback on a final land use plan.
An exclamation mark of sorts - punctuating the mix of anger, frustration and, in some cases, sheer bewilderment,  expressed by people who attended the open houses in Dawson, Mayo and Whitehorse during the past week and a half.
Don’t take a seat
In Dawson the open house began much like all the rest. Planning maps lined the walls. Half a dozen bureaucrats greeted visitors from behind tables, eager to tell them about the region’s “values” and the government’s new “concepts.”
But then things took a bit of twist. Local residents who had filed into the meeting room at the Downtown Hotel earlier were no longer filing out as expected. Instead they milled around until the room was brimming, forcing the government to turn its open house into a public meeting, at least temporarily.
Of the handful of Tr’ondek Hwech’in elders in the crowd, only Peggy Kormendy was lucky enough to score a chair. The others had to stand for an hour or so, listening to more than a dozen people who chose to share their views.
When Kormendy had a chance to talk, she told how her parents, John and Alice Semple, used to walk from Dawson to their home in the Blackstone River area. How they had trails and made camps. And how they hunted to help Dawson’s non-native population.
In a firm, but quiet voice, she also told the government, in no uncertain terms, that it was critical to protect Mother Earth, including the Peel.
“I see you paint your maps green,” she said, referring to the “concepts” taped to the wall between two Halin de Repentigny oil paintings.
“Sure it’s nice - it looks nice as green - but I think you should paint it red instead,” she said, suggesting that would be a more accurate depiction of what the government has in store for the Peel.
Elder Doris Roberts shared Kormendy’s sense of betrayal.
She, too, believed the government when it promised to work with First Nations.
“Why do we have to fight, fight, fight?” she asked.
 “You want your oil. You want your gold. But can you eat gold?”
Dawson resident Chris Clarke said she’s disgusted by the whole ordeal.
“I find that what’s happening is despicable, it’s disrespectful,” she said. “I’ve never actually been so angry in my life at what’s going on here.”
And she warned the government that people are going to put up a good fight.
“I think the message that you’re getting is: ‘Go back to where it was good, where people didn’t hate you, because what you’re doing is creating enemies and you’re dividing society.’”
Former chief Darren Taylor, speaking as an individual, said for him the issue now is the process itself.
“The problem is we’re not working together and we’re not respecting these agreements,” he said.
‘Screw it, we’re going to go our own way’
The government’s “making a mockery” of the concept of consultation, Tr’ondek Hwech’in official Tim Gerberding told those gathered.
Three years ago, the Tr’ondek Hwech’in, along with the Na-Cho Nyak Dun, Gwich’in Tribal Council and Vuntut Gwitchin, signed a deal with the Yukon to work jointly on Peel consultations, he said.
And that’s just what they did in 2010. Public meetings, not open houses, were used to gather opinions.
“There were chairs set out for elders and anyone else who needed one,” said Gerberding. “There were microphones to speak in. There were planners who gave a summary of the plan. A commission member was there. It really was an open process, a comfortable process, that promoted dialogue.”
Not so this time.
“The government has simply decided: ‘Screw it, we’re going to go our own way and we’re going to bulldoze this process through.’ And that’s what they’re trying to do.”
Hence no chairs for the elders or anyone else, he said.
“The anticipation was that people would come in, walk a quick circle for half an hour, maybe make a comment and leave. So you don’t need chairs when you’re doing that,” he said.
“But that sort of a process is designed to enable the government to get its message to you. It is not designed to allow you to get your message to the government.”
As far as the First Nations are concerned, what the government is doing is illegal, he said. It’s way too late in the game for it to introduce major changes to the final recommended plan.
Jim Bell, who heads the government’s Team Peel, said later he was not surprised to receive some strong reaction during the community meetings.
But when asked what he’ll tell the premier about how things went - good, bad or ugly - he said he’d have to consult with the others before answering that.

Tr'ondek Hwech'in releases Peel position

This is the statement released this week by the Dawson City-based First Nation:

The Tr’ondek Hwech’in take the position that the public consultation process the government of Yukon is presently engaged in with respect to the Peel Watershed Regional Land Use Plan is inconsistent with the consultation process mandated by section 11.6 of Yukon First Nation final agreements.

Put another way, we believe this process violates our agreements.

Our position is that it is not open to the government of Yukon to propose a new land use designation system or any of the new concepts advanced by the government as part of the final round of public and intergovernmental consultation required by our final agreement.  Chapter 11 sets out the procedure to be followed.

The introduction of sweeping new proposals at this stage of the Peel land use planning process undermines the process set out in Chapter 11. In our view, advancing these new proposals at this time amounts to a rejection of the constitutionally-protected process set out in our agreement.

We believe that the consultation process mandated by our agreement is bounded on the one hand by the Peel watershed land use planning commission's final recommended plan, and on the other by modifications the parties earlier proposed to the Peel planning commission's earlier recommended plan in December 2009, together with the reasons advanced in support of those modifications. Those are the legal boundaries for this consultation, as set out in 11.6 of our agreement. Consultations outside of those boundaries violate our agreement.

The government of Yukon had six years to provide input into the Peel watershed land use planning process, but for political reasons chose to restrict its input on substantial issues to vague general comments. As a result no one really knew where the government was coming from, including the Peel planning commission.

Had the government of Yukon brought forward its new concepts two years ago, as proposed modifications to the December 2009 recommended plan, the commission would have had the opportunity to factor those concepts into the final recommended plan. Even if the final plan did not reflect them, Yukon’s new concepts would now be reasonable and lawful subject matter for the present consultation.

But it is not reasonable or lawful for Yukon to introduce sweeping new concepts now, after the commission has ceased its work. As per Chapter 11 of Yukon First Nation final agreements, the present consultation is circumscribed by the final recommended plan and the parties’ recommended modifications to the earlier plan.

And to be clear, any consultation that takes place between the government of Yukon and the Tr’ondek Hwech’in is without prejudice to our ability to assert that the government of Yukon has not complied with the land use planning process which is constitutionally entrenched in our agreement.

With respect to the present public consultation and the intergovernmental consultation to follow, the Tr’ondek unequivocally reiterate our support for the commission’s final recommended plan. As we have previously stated, we believe the final recommended plan is a reasonable compromise between our previous position of 100% protection and the interests of some segments of the Yukon populace that want to see industrial development in certain portions of the Peel watershed.

As we have stated repeatedly since the planning process started, the lands and waters of the Peel have unparalleled cultural and ecological value to our people. They have sustained us in body and spirit for thousands of years. The Peel is an incredible region that should be protected for the benefit of future generations.

We know that the majority of the Yukon public feels the same way about protecting the Peel as we do. The Peel really is a place of transcending importance.

As the Peel commission noted in their December 2009 recommendation:
“We can always decide to develop in the future, but once this decision is made, we cannot return to a pristine ecosystem and landscape – not in our lifetime, and not in the lifetimes of our great grandchildren.”

Throughout the Peel planning process, the Tr’ondek Hwech’in have been clear with respect to where we are coming from. We want to see the Peel protected. In marked contrast, the government of Yukon has been consistently vague.

This was clearly articulated in a Sept. 11, 2011 letter from Ian Robertson, chair of the Yukon Land Use Planning Council, to Albert Peter, chair of the Peel watershed planning region senior liaison committee.

Mr. Robertson wrote: “First Nations have made their preferences and position clear; the Yukon government has not. The net result is an impasse that put the Peel commission in an untenable position.”

The bottom line is that the government of Yukon did not and is not participating in the Peel planning process in accordance with the rules set out in our final agreement. The present consultation process is outside of the boundaries set out in our agreement.

Final comment:
From the perspective of transparency and open public dialogue, the present Yukon consultation process is seriously flawed.

The primary focus of the present consultation is to encourage people to make comments on the YG website, but once those comments are made, they disappear from public sight. In the previous consultation comments were available on the website for public perusal. This promoted dialogue and enabled people to learn from each other.

The open house approach of the present consultation likewise defeats dialogue and openness. In the previous consultation presentations were made at a scheduled hour and the public was invited to participate in an open dialogue with commission members, planners and other members of the public. This provided an opportunity for dialogue, debate and the sharing of ideas.

The present consultation seems designed to enable YG to present its thoughts and ideas to the public, not for the public to present its thoughts and ideas to YG.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Shaker rattles Peel River watershed

The second earthquake in as many months shook the mountains of the central Bonnetplume River valley this morning.
It had a magnitude of 5.1, reports Natural Resources Canada.
The earthquake happened about 126 kilometres northeast of Keno City about 4:30 a.m.
In late October, there was a 4.0 earthquake about 30 kilometres further north.
That one came the day after the Yukon government announced its new plans to open the Peel to industrial development and kicked off final consultations.
Today marks the end of the first series of Yukon meetings, held in Whitehorse, Mayo and Dawson during the past two weeks.
Click here to see a map of where the quake occurred.
Click here for more details on earthquakes in the Yukon and western Northwest Territories.

'Go back to where it was good'

DAWSON CITY - Chris Clarke is mad. Really mad.
“Basically I’m disgusted,” she told Yukon government officials at this week’s open house on the Peel land use plan.
“I find that what’s happening is despicable.  It’s disrespectful. I’ve never actually been so angry in my life at what’s going on here.”
She said the government’s hijacked the planning process and tossed out promises to work with First Nations.
But she doesn’t think the public is going to let it off the hook this time.
“People are going to fight,” said Clarke.
“That’s unfortunate for the government. I think the message that you’re getting is: ‘Go back to where it was good, where people didn’t hate you because what you’re doing is creating enemies and you’re dividing society and it’s not the right thing to do.’”
Clarke was one of more than a dozen people who unloaded their frustrations after the open house turned into a defacto town hall meeting.
Many others echoed her sentiments.
For Tr’ondek Hwech’in  elder Doris Roberts, it’s the way the government has treated First Nations in this process that really irks her.
“Why do we have to fight, fight, fight?” she asked.
 “You want your oil. You want your gold. But can you eat gold? “
Dawson resident Molly McDonald said the government’s new concepts cannot be pawned off as modifications.
“As far as I can tell, A,B,C,D  plans - those aren’t modifications, those are totally new proposals,” she said.
“They are not changes to the Peel final plan that was put forward and they should be ripped off the wall. They don’t have a place in this stage of the consultation.”
Dawson resident Glenda Bolt said the government should remember that wilderness and cultural tourism are important to the economic health of the Yukon.  
Visitors from around the world ask about the Peel watershed when they stop in at the First Nation’s cultural centre, she said.
 “The eyes and the ears of the world are watching,” she said.
As far as David Curtis is concerned, the government has already been given a balanced plan – the one prepared by the Peel planning commission after seven years of work.
“What this government is doing right now is illegitimate. It’s a sham. It’s a whitewash,” he said.
The government is obviously trying to confuse the public rather than clarify the issues, he said. Nor is there any accountability when it comes to the comments it receives.
Both the online form and the questionnaire can be submitted anonymously. They could be done by anyone from anywhere any number of times.
“Shame on the people at EMR [Energy, Mines and Resources] who put this together,” he said. “Shame on the politicians as well who don’t have the backbone to be here.”
In all more than 90 people attended some portion of the government’s open house.
The next community meetings will be in the New Year. That’s when the government plans to go to Fort McPherson, Aklavik, Inuvik, Tsiigehtchic and Old Crow.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Dawson meeting packs them in

DAWSON CITY - More than 90 people attended the Yukon government's open house on the Peel watershed land use plan  held at the Downtown Hotel today.

So many in fact that the open house turned into a defacto town hall meeting.

Rather than talking to people individually, government officials were forced to sit and listen to what the people sitting and standing around the room had to say.

The Dawson meeting wraps up the Peel open houses until the New Year. That's when the government plans to visit Old Crow, Fort McPherson, Inuvik, Tsiigehtchic and Aklavik.

Former chief: 'Are we working together?'

MAYO –  It’s been almost 20 years since Robert Hager signed the Na-Cho Nyak Dun’s land claim agreement .
But things sure haven’t panned out as promised.
That’s what the former chief told about 70 people who attended a public meeting on the Peel watershed land use plan at the community hall on Monday.
“When I signed that final agreement, about 400 people, they said sign it because the government was going to work with us and we were all going to work together. Are we working together?” he said.
Hager, now 72, spent years hammering out that deal – a deal which included an agreement to jointly plan the Peel’s future land use.
“Now you people are telling us you disagree with the commission’s plan. Why don’t you join us and work with us and make this thing happen,” he said.
The alternative is a long and costly court battle, he warned.
“Stand on your agreement,” said Hager.  “Don’t try to change it….We’ll be in court for the next 40 years.”
The two government officials,  parked at the front of the room,  just listened to Hager and occasionally nodded.
They had reluctantly accepted an invitation from newly-elected chief Ed Champion to leave their near-empty open house next door for the much better-attended town hall meeting , where they heard speaker after speaker urge the government to protect the Peel.
People, like Bobby Lee Melancon. For years her husband, a hardrock miner, had told her about the beauty of the Peel.  Even though he works in the industry, he didn’t want to see mining in that region.
 Several months ago she had the chance to spend some time there herself.
“I thought ‘Oh my god, my husband’s right, “ she told the crowd. “The water is crystal clear. I’ve never seen anything like it in my whole life.”
The government’s rejection of the Peel plan shows complete disrespect for the First Nations, said Mayo resident Don Hutton.
At this late stage in the planning process, the government has “absolutely no right to tamper” with the final recommended plan, he said. Especially since it was involved with the process from the start.
As a long-time government employee, who also owns some Yukon mining claims, Hutton said he’s well aware of the role mining plays in the territory and recognizes the need for balance.
“But in the last three years 300,000 quartz claims have been staked in the territory,” he said. “It will take 15 or 20 years to find out what’s under the ground on those claims.
“We certainly don’t need to be looking at the Peel right now.”
Frank Patterson, who credits the Peel with helping him start to heal from addictions, said the government’s handling of the land use planning process makes him sick.
He told officials to tell Premier Darrell Pasloski that “we don’t want that plan that he’s come up with, that’s made a laughing stock of us.”
Elsie Hume, who is originally from Old Crow but currently works in Mayo, said the government has no right to develop a new plan by itself.
“Look at our own government doing this to us,” she said. “Going against our Umbrella Final Agreement, just railroading it in like we’re not alive. You should be ashamed of yourselves. “
She said the government should reconsider because it’s got a “big fight” on its hands.
The Peel controversy is not a debate about mining versus the environment – it’s much broader than that, said Beth Hunt.
The government’s rejection of the Peel commission’s plan undermines democracy itself, she said.
Nor does she believe the government really wants to hear what people have to say about the watershed.
“You heard from us for years and you didn’t like what we were saying,” said Hunt. 
“This new consultation period is just a sham. What use is land planning? Why should we participate if the government can then ignore the recommendations and do what it wants?"

The Na-Cho Nyak Dun is one of four First Nations that were part of the Peel planning process up until recently when the Yukon government decided to go it alone. The others are the Tr'ondek Hwech'in, the Gwich'in Tribal Council and the Vuntut Gwitchin.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Mayo consultation draws good crowd

MAYO - Despite the wickedly cold temperatures, the Yukon government went ahead with public consultations on the Peel watershed land use plan as scheduled on Monday.

About 30 people attended the government's open house in the Curling Rink lounge, but more than 70 attended a parallel public meeting on the Peel in the town hall next door.

The government's side had information on the final recommended plan as well as the new "concepts" it drew up in the past few months. The other meeting, attended largely by First Nation people, also provided details on both and an opportunity for people to speak.

Government officials accepted an invitation from newly-elected chief Na-cho Nyak Dun Chief Ed Champion to cross through the narrow hallway that separated the two and listen to what was being said.

Much to everyone's surprise they accepted. Land use planners Jim Bell and Manon Moreau stood at the front and listened for more than an hour as people railed against the government and its rejection of the final plan.

The next Peel open house is in Dawson City on Tuesday, Dec. 4.

The First Nation's meeting on the Peel attracted more than 70 people.

The government's Peel consultation in the Mayo Curling Lounge.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

They came, they saw, they puzzled

“What the hell is a RUWA?”
That’s what one clearly irritated wag wanted to know after wandering into the Yukon government’s open house on the Peel watershed land use plan, from the next door Gold Pan Saloon, and leafing through the public comment questionnaire.
Sure enough, the first of its four questions reads: “The RUWA designation’s purpose is to actively manage all land uses while protecting the values of the area. Do you have any suggestions on how the RUWA designation can achieve this goal?”
He had a point.
Even when told it stood for Restricted Use Wilderness Area, the guy remained perplexed because, of course, that didn’t mean anything to him either.
Did RUWA allow industrial development or not? What exactly was being restricted – mining, caribou, canoeists?  Would roads and bridges be allowed? If so how could that still be called wilderness?
And why was RUWA coloured green?
Granted it’s a lighter shade of green, but green nevertheless and that alone made him deeply suspicious.
After a quick trip around the room – making brief pit stops at the “values” and "concepts" stations - he circled back toward the exit, shrugged his shoulders and headed back to the bar none the wiser.
He was one of about 250 people who passed through the doors of the government’s five-day open house at Whitehorse’s Gold Rush Inn this week.
Many stayed a bit longer, studying the maps and prodding officials for details, but more than one was surely tempted to head straight for the next watering hole to digest all the land use planning gobbledygook.
The government’s asking people whether or not they support the final recommended plan. Released in 2011 by the Peel planning commission, the 200 or so page document, jam-packed with details, maps and photos, distilled from seven years of research and consultation, concludes 80 per cent of the region should be protected.
The government’s also using this consultation period to float a new and different vision for the watershed. Despite its generous use of green, its four proposed plans, hastily drawn up by its bureaucrats over a few months, provide for almost no protection anywhere.
Government land use planner Jim Bell, who is heading up the consultations, said he’s pleased with the response to the Whitehorse open house.
He was impressed by how much people knew about the final recommended plan.
Most of the questions he fielded were about the government’s new concepts, ranging from roads and river corridors to mineral claims and the true meaning of green.
The Wind and Bonnet Plume River region, which the government has designated RUWA, garnered the most attention. Not only is it heavily used by wilderness travellers, it’s also where many of the 8,400 existing mineral claims are located.
Few wanted to play “pick a new concept” regardless of their leanings on the contentious issue.
“I’m actually sort of surprised,” said Bell. “I thought people might focus on one of these [the four concepts] but I’m actually surprised no one has said ‘Oh yeah, this is the way you should go or that’s the way you should go.’ "
Although the government's collecting feedback until Feb. 25, visitors were invited to leave their mark by jotting down a few words on giant sticky notes and pasting them up on the flip chart pages situated around the room.
Of the 100 or so notes tacked up over the week, only about a half dozen suggested opening the Peel to industrial development. The vast majority supported protection while some simply used the opportunity to pose their questions publicly.
All other comments sent to the government - whether by mail, fax, phone or email - will not be released to the public until after the consultation period closes in three months.