The Yukon government is defending its decision to ban mineral staking on some First Nations settlement lands — despite prospectors saying they were blindsided by the decision.
“We didn’t get a direct notice from the government about it, and we find that to be a little bit disturbing,” said Carl Schulze a director with the Yukon Prospectors’ Association.
“We would have loved to be involved in the consultation process.”
The staking ban was enacted by an order-in-council passed last week.
It applies to parcels of Category B settlement lands, as defined under the Yukon Umbrella Final Agreement. Category B lands are those to which First Nations have surface rights, but not subsurface rights (Category A lands are those to which First Nations have both surface and subsurface rights).
The lands affected by the ban amount to about 300 square kilometres, or about 0.06 per cent of Yukon’s total area.
Schulze admits that’s not much, but says more than half the territory is already off-limits to staking.
“It’s a little bit like being given just a little bit more tax, and you’re already heavily taxed,” he said.
The Yukon Chamber of Mines has also spoken out about the new ban, saying they were also surprised by the news.
‘A bit of a shock’
Yukon’s mines minister, meanwhile, is surprised to hear everyone’s so surprised.
“I mean, it was a bit of a shock,” said Ranj Pillai, minister of energy, mines and resources.
“This has been a conversation with the Chamber of Mines for a number of years. Also, the Chamber of Mines has representation on their board, from the prospectors.”
Pillai said the government has the support of First Nations, and the Chamber of Mines had also earlier written to the government in support of the move.
“So it was a little bit of a 180,” Pillai said.
“This is not a new undertaking. What we’ve done in this particular case is dealt with something that’s long overdue and something that’s the right thing to do. And you know, many in the mining sector understand that providing this certainty is the right thing to do.”
Pillai says many of the land parcels in question have known cultural or heritage value, and should not be disrupted. He says the ban doesn’t alter the Umbrella Final Agreement, but simply prohibits one activity from the Settlement B lands in question.
He compares it to a similar staking ban already in place within Whitehorse city limits.
Still, Schulze says the new ban is unnecessary because staking is relatively low-impact, and prospectors would also report anything they find that might have cultural value.
The withdrawal of these lands from staking amounts to a “small nail in the coffin,” he says, as prospectors need access to land in order to find viable deposits.
“The amount of land it would actually get into anything I’d call development, much less mining, is very small. But you need to have a large area available in order to find it,” he said.
“The less area that there is available, then the less chance there is to find something — simple as that.”
With files from Leonard Linklater and Christine Genier
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