A look at the controvery around development in Yukon’s Peel watershed

Marchers in Inuvik, N.W.T., protest the Yukon government's plan to open the Peel River watershed to development. (David Thurton/CBC)
Marchers in Inuvik, N.W.T., protest the Yukon government’s plan to open the Peel River watershed to development. (David Thurton/CBC)
Protesters demonstrated in the northern Canadian territories of Yukon and Northwest Territories this week against plans to develop the Peel watershed.

The Peel Watershed is a wilderness area located in Yukon’s northeast.

The Yukon government approved the development plan in January. It protects 29 per cent of the region, while allowing various levels of land use in the remaining areas.

“This remote area holds resources that have the potential to be of great value to Yukon’s economy, both now and in the future,” Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources Scott Kent said in a news release on January 21. “The plan recognizes existing mineral interests and accommodates future exploration, while giving the Yukon government the tools to manage the footprint of any new development and to protect ecological, cultural and wilderness values.

Controversy over the future of the region has been ongoing for years between First Nations and environmental groups that believe the area must remain protected business interests that to want to open the area up to industries like mining.

On Monday, the Nacho Nyak Dun and the Tr’ondek Hwech’in First Nations, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society Yukon and the Yukon Conservation Society filed a lawsuit in Yukon Supreme Court against the Yukon government over the plan.

They are asking for 54,000 square kilometres of wilderness in the northern Peel River Watershed to be protected from development.

“This is a lawsuit that nobody wanted to bring,” said Thomas R. Berger, the lawyer representing the plantiffs said in news release on Monday . “But the Yukon Government has forced these plaintiffs to go to court not only in defense of First Nations and environmental values in Yukon, but also to uphold principles entrenched in the Constitution.”

Peel Watershed - Quick Facts

Area: 67,000 km2
Nearby communities: Mayo, Fort McPherson, Dawson and Old Crow
Land: Majority of land is crown owned
Largest private landowners in planning region: Tetlit Gwich’in First Nation
Other First Nations with private lands in region: Na-cho Nyak Dun and the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in
Source: Peel Watershed Planning Commission

Related Links:

First Nations, environmentalists sue Yukon over Peel plan, CBC News

Government of Yukon approves land use plan for public lands in Peel Watershed region, Yukon Government News Release

Eilís Quinn, Eye on the Arctic

Eilís Quinn is an award-winning journalist and manages Radio Canada International’s Eye on the Arctic news cooperation project. Eilís has reported from the Arctic regions of all eight circumpolar countries and has produced numerous documentary and multimedia series about climate change and the issues facing Indigenous peoples in the North.

Her investigative report "Death in the Arctic: A community grieves, a father fights for change," about the murder of Robert Adams, a 19-year-old Inuk man from Arctic Quebec, received the silver medal for “Best Investigative Article or Series” at the 2019 Canadian Online Publishing Awards. The project also received an honourable mention for excellence in reporting on trauma at the 2019 Dart Awards in New York City.

Her report “The Arctic Railway: Building a future or destroying a culture?” on the impact a multi-billion euro infrastructure project would have on Indigenous communities in Arctic Europe was a finalist at the 2019 Canadian Association of Journalists award in the online investigative category.

Her multimedia project on the health challenges in the Canadian Arctic, "Bridging the Divide," was a finalist at the 2012 Webby Awards.

Her work on climate change in the Arctic has also been featured on the TV science program Découverte, as well as Le Téléjournal, the French-Language CBC’s flagship news cast.

Eilís has worked for media organizations in Canada and the United States and as a TV host for the Discovery/BBC Worldwide series "Best in China."

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