NNSL Photo/Graphic

Canadian North

Home page text size buttonsbigger textsmall textText size Email this articleE-mail this page

Peel protesters pound pavement
Crowd opposes Yukon government opening watershed to development

Shawn Giilck
Northern News Services
Published Thursday, February 6, 2014

A Yukon territory government decision is under protest in the Mackenzie Delta.

nnsl photo

Ruth Wright, left, and Winston Moses enjoy a laugh during a protest walk Jan. 29. Nearly 100 people gathered in a walk down Mackenzie Road to protest the decision by the Yukon government to open the Peel River watershed to development. The watershed is part of traditional Gwich'in lands and is one of the last undeveloped watersheds of its type in Northern Canada. - Shawn Giilck/NNSL photo

On Jan. 29, nearly 100 people staged a protest walk down Mackenzie Road from Ingamo Hall to the Gwich'in Tribal Council (GTC) building to mark their discontent with the decision to open the Peel River watershed to resource development.

The protest was organized by GTC members in solidarity with their Yukon kin. The Peel River is part of the traditional Gwich'in lands and is still in pristine shape, according to people who attended the rally.

Two Yukon First Nations and two conservation groups have launched a lawsuit over the plan to open more than 70 per cent of the area to development. That decision goes against the recommendations of the Peel River Planning Commission, which suggested 80 per cent of the region should be protected.

The lawsuit has been filed by the Nacho Nyak Dun, the Tr'ondek Hwech'in, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society Yukon and the Yukon Conservation Society.

Norman Snowshoe, the vice-president of the Gwich'in Tribal Council, spoke to the assembled protestors at Ingamo Hall before the walk began.

"This is a very important issue," Snowshoe said. "Not only to the Gwich'ins, but to all the people. What we're trying to do is protect one of the last intact water systems in the world. Our ancestors grew up in the area, our ancestors looked after that area.

"We participated in the planning process that called for a conservation area of 80 per cent," he continued. "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 demonstrate to the Yukon government that their plan is totally unacceptable to the Gwich'in of the NWT and the Gwich'in of the Yukon."

Similar protest walks were held in Aklavik and Whitehorse Jan. 29, with another scheduled for Fort McPherson Jan. 30.

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

"It's really important to take a stand," fellow GTC member Fred Koe added.

Resident Ruth Wright said she is outraged by the Yukon decision.

"I don't feel it's right that people are allowed to go and explore the land, use the water, destroy our land as they work, even if they re-vegetate the land. I still think it's wrong that they're allowed to do it without our say and we've already asked that our lands should be protected. Why are they going ahead?

"Yes, it's in the Yukon and the Yukon government has its say, but we're downriver from them and we should be able to have a say as well," Wright added. "The land, the water, the animals, the vegetation, all should have a right to be protected. If no one stands up to do it, we can't say beans about it later."

Wright said she believes the Yukon government is being blinded by the potential for resource revenues in the development of the area.

"There's money in the end, and it's like it's on the end of a stick for them and that's what they're going for," she said angrily.

Inuvik-Boot Lake MLA Alfred Moses took part in the march, saying he personally supports the cause.

The Peel River watershed measures 70,000 square kilometres.

E-mailWe welcome your opinions. Click here to e-mail a letter to the editor.