Mining industry fears changes to legislation could end free entry staking in Canada’s Yukon

Currently, Yukon’s free entry system allows any prospector to enter onto public lands and explore for minerals. (Nancy Thompson/CBC)
The Yukon Prospectors Association and the Yukon Chamber of Mines fear that proposed amendments to the Quartz Mining Act will jeopardize “free entry” staking in the territory.

The Yukon Prospectors Association sent a letter to Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources Ranj Pillai on July 18, revealing deep anxiety about the proposed changes.

In the letter obtained by the CBC, the association said the information it received from the government about the changes was vague, but that it believes the changes will give staking rights exclusively to First Nations, excluding everyone else.

Currently, Yukon’s free entry system allows any prospector to enter onto public lands and explore for minerals.

Reconciliation is good, but this seems to be more than that.

Yukon Prospectors Association letter
Amending the law to promote reconciliation

The Yukon government’s website announced the opening of consultation on changes to the Quartz Mining Act on July 20. The website says the government is proposing amendments “to enable further reconciliation with First Nations and to advance remediation of some of Yukon’s abandoned Type II mine sites.”

It said the amendments would not affect existing claims, public lands that are available for staking, or permanently protected lands.

However, the Yukon Prospectors Association’s letter to the minister says changes would mean “the Yukon government, and future Yukon governments will have the power to give staking rights exclusively to First Nations citizens … their governments and partners, excluding all other persons and companies.”

It calls the proposed changes “divisive” and says they will “create uncertainty.”

“These proposals would mean that, at the discretion of the Yukon government, one group/race/level of government would have exclusive rights to claim the mineral rights on some presently unclaimed non-settlement Crown land which belongs to all Canadians,” the letter said.

“Reconciliation is good, but this seems to be more than that.”

Consultation period not long enough, groups say

The Yukon Chamber of Mines also emailed its members on July 19 about the issue.

The email, which was also obtained by the CBC, said the chamber had conversations with government officials about what the changes could mean for the free entry system, but “received very little clarification.”

The email says the chamber requested to see a copy of the proposed amendments, but “it was made clear” that it would not receive a draft before the end of the consultation period or before the act is tabled in the legislature.

“It’s our understanding that the first proposed amendment would allow First Nations to stake claims on lands set aside by moratorium,” the email stated.

Samson Hartland, the executive director of the Yukon Chamber of Mines, said the chamber needs to see the specific amendments to the Quartz Mining Act. (Paul Tukker/CBC)

Samson Hartland, the executive director of the chamber, said the chamber needs to see the specific amendments.

“The extreme concern [is]… what a) the intent is b) what the potential ramifications are, and c) the potential unintended consequences of introducing such changes,” Hartland said.

“What this would mean … if lands were considered mineral rich, potentially a government could decide to set them aside and have them only accessible by the First Nation itself and not available to anybody else.”

The government is accepting feedback on amendments to the act until Aug. 21.

The chamber’s email said that consultation is “limited to 45 days.” Hartland said the industry needs more time to consult, pointing out that the summer is the height of the busy field season.

The Yukon Prospectors Association’s letter to Minister Pillai also asked that the consultation period be extended into October.

A cabinet communications spokesperson said Pillai was not available for an interview.

Not much done since MOU signed

A CHON FM broadcast on June 27 carried remarks from the Council of Yukon First Nations’ general assembly in Mayo, Yukon, in which Nacho Nyak Dun Chief Simon Mervyn said there has been little movement on a memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed with the Yukon government in January 2017.

The Yukon government and 11 of the territory’s First Nations pledged in the MOU to work together on a “one government approach” to Yukon’s mining sector.

Mervyn made the comments during a discussion on mining on First Nations’ lands.

“We need [the Yukon government] to work with us,” Mervyn told the assembly. “We need to establish a hard timeline to see significant progress. If there is no progress, Yukon First Nations will look at other approaches to address our interests, including court or political action to protect our Aboriginal treaty rights.

“We need to update the outdated and antiquated territorial mining legislation, policies and rules in order to reconcile mining activities in our treaties and Aboriginal rights.”

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Canadian mining company hopes new structure will bring financing for northern project, CBC News

Finland: Finland’s first silver mine to start production next year, Yle News

Greenland: With Siumut’s re-election, will Greenland welcome Chinese investment?, Cryopolitics Blog

Norway: Norway grants drilling rights closer to protected Arctic waters, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia: Smelters, huskies, and fish pies: the Arctic road from Norway to Russia, Cryopolitics Blog

Sweden: Iron mine in northern Sweden to restart production, The Independent Barents Observer

United StatesAmerica’s most toxic site is in the Alaskan Arctic, Cryopolitics Blog

Nancy Thomson, CBC News

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