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Yukoners react to Peel Watershed decision

Members of the public gathered at the Kwanlin Dun Cultural Centre for a press conference following the Supreme Court of Canada's decision on the peel Watershed (Oshea Jephson/CKRW)

The Supreme Court of Canada says the government must move forward on the Final Recommended Plan for the Peel Watershed.

CPAWS Yukon says 'We all need to stand up one last time' to defend the Peel Watershed Final Recommended Plan. 

The comments follow a Supreme Court of Canada decision issued this morning which sends the process back to the Final Recommended plan, which means the government will now consult with the public, First Nations, and stakeholders before accepting, modifying, or rejecting the plan. 

When asked what's at stake in the region, Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in First Nation Chief Roberta Joseph says it's one of the most untouched areas in the territory. 

"It has beautiful, clear, sparkling rivers where we can go drink the water from and there's a lot of food on the land for us. Our people use the land for food. We harvest food. We harvest medicines. One of our elders always says this is our university and our hospital."

Speaking to the Rush following the Press Conference, Grand Chief of the Council of Yukon First Nations Peter Johnston says the courts have again solidified the position of First Nations agreements. 

"We're batting 100% right, and it's unfortunate. You go back to Freddy Fender, wasted days and wasted nights, right. We need to work together in partnership. Our agreements are built on, not only protecting our rights as First Nations people, but opening opportunities for everybody at the end of the day and it's for all Yukoners."

(Inset photo: TH First Nation Chief Roberta Joseph is flanked by Chris Rider of CPAWS, and Nacho Nyak Dun Chief Simon Mervyn at Friday's press conference in Ottawa. Photo: Martine Foubert/CPAWS Yukon.)

"It's our bread basket. That's where we get our food from. Let alone, as Chief Joseph said, it's our hospital, a place where we can get our medicine. Let alone that spiritual connection that we have as First Nations to the environment, and to the wildlife so it's all precious to us at the end of the day. The importance of us protecting that is strengthened, once again, today."

CPAWS Yukon Executive Director Chris Rider says 20 years is a long time to be working on one campaign but it's worth it. 

"I want my future grandchildren to be able to hike and camp in wild places like the Peel Watershed. I want them to be able to live in a world where bears, caribou, wolves, and lynx exist in wild spaces, not just in zoos."

Yukon premier Sandy Silver addressed reporters over the noon hour on the Peel decision, and says he's always supported the final recommended plan.

"I'm already in text conversations with chiefs. I've been in conversation with Chief Roberta Joseph and we're ready, willing, and able to sit down when they get back from Ottawa."

Silver adds the court ruling begins a new era for the territory, based on reconciliation.

(Inset photo: Premier Silver speaks to the media at a noon hour press conference. Photo: Tim Kucharuk/CKRW)

"We're extremely excited to complete the process. The court has instructed us to return to the final plan. We have always supported the Final Recommended Plan, and now we have the ability to return to that final plan."

When asked about legal costs for the taxpayer, he says those are still being tallied, but it's going to be expensive.

The Opposition Yukon Party was in power in 2012 when, according to the courts, the land use planning process went off the rails.

Opposition House Leader Scott Kent, a former Energy, Mines, and Resources Minister, acknowledges mistakes were made, saying today's decision provides clarity, and is good for Yukoners.

"We respect the Supreme Court's decision, and recognize its impact on the land use planning process outlined in the Umbrella Final Agreement."

Kent says the concern now with the Final Recommend Plan is it's restrictiveness, and cost of implementation.

"How they're going to deal with thousands of legitimately held mineral claims in that region and whether the government plans on compensating those claim holders for any direct or indirect expropriation that will occur as a result of this recommended plan being implemented. "

The Yukon NDP's Kate White is also reacting to the decision, saying Yukoners should be commended for their efforts. 

"It's validation for the hundreds, and thousands of people in the territory who just never gave up hope."

White says she remembers the people who sat in the legislature every day for five years to bring attention to the issue, and the resiliency and steadfast belief of First nation leadership. 

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