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Gwich'in plan to enter lawsuit
Tribal council says Peel River is in shared traditional territory

Shawn Giilck
Northern News Services
Published Thursday, February 13, 2014

To no one's surprise, the Gwich'in Tribal Council (GTC) has announced it is planning to join a lawsuit against the Yukon government's plan to allow development of the Peel River watershed.

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Norman Snowshoe, the vice president of the Gwich'in Tribal Council, says the organization will join the lawsuit over the Peel River Watershed. - Shawn Giilck/NNSL photo

"The Peel River watershed is in our shared traditional territory with the North Yukon First Nations of Nacho Nyak Dun, Tr'ondk Hwch'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 have fee simple title (complete ownership) to land in the primary use area," said Gwich'in Tribal Council vice-president Norman Snowshoe in a news release.

On Jan. 21, the Yukon government announced its approval of a regional land use plan for the Peel watershed that would allow up to 71 per cent of it to be developed for its resources.

That move came over the objections of many parties, including the Gwich'in Tribal Council, and ignored the recommendations of a government commission advocating for 80 per cent of the area to be protected. The GTC supported that plan.

Snowshoe didn't return a request to make a further comment on the issue to the Inuvik Drum. However, he commented on it at length during a protest walk almost two weeks ago.

"We must preserve the Peel River watershed for generations to come," Snowshoe said then. "The only way to do that is to support the Peel commission's recommendation of 80 per cent protection.

"We participated in the planning process that called for a conservation area of 80 per cent," Snowshoe said during the walk.

"The Yukon government took that plan and rewrote it. That goes totally against the wishes of our people. That's why it's very important that we demonstrates to the Yukon government that their plan is totally unacceptable to the Gwich'in of the NWT and the Gwich'in of the Yukon."

The Yukon Transboundary Agreement of 1992 guaranteed the Gwich'in Tribal Council a right to participate in any land-use planning process relating to the Peel watershed.

"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'ondk Hwch'in First Nations," Snowshoe said.

The organization has not yet filed the legal challenge.

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