December 1st 2017, was a historic day for the Tr’ondek Hwech’in, Na Cho Nyak Dun, Vun Tut Gwitchin, and Gwich’in Tribal Council with the Supreme Court of Canada upholding Yukon Justice Ron Veale’s 2014 ruling regarding the Peel River Watershed, saying the Yukon Government strayed from the process when it introduced its own land use plan.
“This ruling is great news for the Gwich’in and other First Nations who were parties in this case. The court’s decision will set the tone for future Crown relations with treaty holders and sets a stage for improved trust between Indigenous groups and the Crown,” said Gwich’in Tribal Council President Bobbi Jo Greenland-Morgan.
The 2011 Peel Commission recommended protecting 80 per cent of the watershed from development. The government’s plan protected only 29 per cent from new mineral staking.
“The Liberal Government of the Yukon made promises while campaigning that they were committed to the Commission’s final recommended plan, and we look forward to working with them to implement their promise,” said GTC Vice President Jordan Peterson.
The Yukon Party was ousted last year by Sandy Silver’s Liberals. He says his government would accept the commission’s final recommended plan, and now move forward with consultations on that plan.
“We’re very keen to start working towards finalizing a regional land use plan that now reflects a shared vision,” said Silver on Friday.
Chief Roberta Joseph of the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in First Nation called Friday’s court ruling, “a great day for democracy.”
“It has beautiful, clear, sparkling rivers where we can go and drink the water from. There’s a lot of food on the land for us: our people use it for food, we harvest medicines. One of our elders always says ‘this is our university and our hospital.’ That’s what’s at stake here,” said Joseph
The Supreme Court ruling does not force the Yukon government to adopt the final plan. That may have implications for future land use planning processes in Yukon, which have been on hold pending the resolution of the Peel case.
The court orders the planning process back to the point where “Yukon can approve, reject, or modify the Final Recommended Plan as it applies to non-settlement land after consultation with the specified parties.”