Press Release Inuvik NT Tuesday, February 4, 2014 Re: Gwich’in Tribal Council intends to challenge the Yukon’s unilateral development and adoption of a “new” Peel Watershed Regional Land Use Plan through litigation
On January 21, 2014, the Yukon government announced its approval of a regional land use plan for the Peel Watershed over the objections of the Gwich’in Tribal Council and contrary to land use planning process requirements. The Gwich’in people have strong ties to the Peel Watershed. This connection was recognized by the Crown through the establishment of the Peel River Preserve in 1921, the creation of the Fort McPherson Group Trapping Area in the early 1950’s and the protection of rights for the Gwich’in within the Yukon in the Yukon Transboundary Agreement of 1992. “The Peel River Watershed is in our shared Traditional Territory with the North Yukon First Nations of Nacho Nyak Dun, Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in and Vuntut Gwitchin. Inherent rights to hunt, trap, fish and to have access to water are provided for in the Transboundary Agreement of the Gwich’in Comprehensive Land Claim Agreement. The Gwich’in also has fee simple title to land in the Primary Use Area,” said GTC Vice President Norman Snowshoe. In recognition of these rights, the Transboundary Agreement guarantees the Gwich’in Tribal Council a right to participate in any land use planning process relating to the primary use area in the Peel Watershed. When the Peel Watershed Planning Commission was established in 2004, the GTC was optimistic that it would result in a plan that would protect the exercise of Gwich’in
rights in sacred areas of the Peel Watershed. Such protection would be for the benefit of Gwich’in and northerners alike. The Final Recommended Plan proposed by the Commission was a compromise for the Gwich’in, who had made it clear that they wanted the entire Peel region to be protected from resource development. However, the GTC supported, and continues to support, the Final Recommended Plan’s proposed protection of 80% of the Peel Watershed, and its focus on sustainable development. Despite the Gwich’in’s good faith participation in this process, the Yukon government has drastically and unilaterally re-written the operative elements of the Final Recommended Plan, significantly reducing the protections for the Peel Watershed. The Yukon government’s new plan will allow substantial development in critical parts of the Peel Watershed, threatening Gwich’in’s continued connection to this sacred area. Accordingly, the GTC intends to challenge the Yukon’s unilateral development and adoption of the new land use plan through litigation. This legal challenge will be tailored to the unique position of the Gwich’in in the Yukon and will be supportive of the action filed by Nacho Nyak Dun and the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in First Nations. A court decision will provide clarity for the Gwich’in, Yukon and other groups on the meaning of these modern treaties and the future of the Peel Watershed. For further information contact: Norman Snowshoe Vice President Gwich’in Tribal Council Chief Jim Koe Zheh Building Box 1509 Inuvik, NT X0E 0J0 Ph: 867-777-7900 nsnowshoe@Gwichin.nt.ca
The Gwich'in Tribal Council in NWT announces legal action against the Yukon government regarding the Peel River Watershed land use plan.