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Peel Watershed one step closer to Ottawa

On October 19, 2016, the appellants in the Peel Watershed case (the First Nation of Na-Cho Nyak Dun, the Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in, the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation, CPAWS Yukon and the Yukon Conservation Society) filed their factum (written argument) in the Supreme Court of Canada.

Thomas Berger Q.C., legal counsel for the appellants, stated: “If allowed to stand, the reasoning of the Yukon Court of Appeal will inevitably undermine the careful balance between the respective roles in future decision-making of non-Aboriginal Governments and Aboriginal peoples that has been so assiduously negotiated and set out in the Yukon First Nation Final Agreements, and in similar modern treaties across Canada. For the future of the Peel Watershed and for all land use planning to come in the Yukon, we are respectfully requesting that the Supreme Court of Canada set aside the judgment of the Court of Appeal of Yukon, and restore the judgment of the Supreme Court of Yukon.”

Chief Roberta Joseph of the Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in stated: “Two courts have ruled that Yukon government undermined the integrity of our Final Agreements. We appreciate the opportunity to have our case heard by the Supreme Court of Canada; their final decision will provide certainty for the land-use-planning-approval processes in the Territory and set a precedent for the country. We hope their decision will reverse the harm made by the Court of Appeal and ensure the intent of our Agreements is upheld.”

Chris Rider, Executive Director of CPAWS Yukon, added: “Yukoners need to know that the land use planning process hears their voices and that the process cannot be undermined at the last minute. That’s why we’re so pleased with the strong arguments that Mr. Berger has prepared.”

Chief Simon Mervyn of the First Nation of Na-Cho Nyak Dun spoke to the national significance of the case: “Our Final Agreements have stood the test of time and will continue to prevail. We have been patient but it is time for us to see the commitment to act in good faith that was at the table when we signed our Final Agreements with Canada and the Government of Yukon in 1993.”

Christina Macdonald, Executive Director of the Yukon Conservation Society, reflected on the upcoming territorial election: “One of the first orders of business for the political party that is elected on November 7 will be to go to Ottawa and have the Yukon government’s actions judged by the Supreme Court of Canada.” She continued, “Nine judges will ultimately make the decision but the whole country and supporters around the world will be watching.”

Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation Chief Bruce Charlie stated: “We are proud to join with the Yukon First Nations, the Tetlit Gwich’in of the Northwest Territories and the environmental groups in a united front and share with Canada our work to protect the wildlife, the land and our Indigenous rights.”

The Council of Yukon First Nations (CYFN) will be applying to the Supreme Court of Canada for leave to intervene in support of the appellants. On the decision of CYFN to seek intervener status in the Peel Watershed case, CYFN Grand Chief Peter Johnston stated: “We stand firmly to support the First Nations involved in legal proceedings of the Peel Watershed case. CYFN is seeking to intervene in the court case as it is important to protect the integrity of our Umbrella Final Agreement and Final Land Claims Agreements in the Yukon.”

The Yukon government now has two months to submit its response to the appellants’ factum. It is anticipated that the Gwich’in Tribal Council will seek leave to intervene in support of the appellants.

Stand with the First Nations and environmental groups in their work to protect the Peel Watershed by signing the Peel Pledge


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CPAWS Yukon Chapter
506 Steele St. 
Whitehorse, Yukon, Y1A 2C9
(867) 393-8080

Yukon Conservation Society
302 Hawkins Street
Whitehorse, Yukon Y1A 1X6
(867) 668-5678