Honouring Our Waters and Lands
Honouring Our Waters and Lands
Wetlands are one of the world’s most important habitats. They are also one of the world’s most threatened. In the Yukon, placer mining in wetlands was recently the topic of a three-day public hearing of the Yukon Water Board (YWB) where testimony was heard from across the Yukon.
As I watched testimony from nations, governments, groups, experts, ENGOs and others, I felt a crossroads was forming, and, as an advocate for future generations, lands, and wildlife with no voice, I knew what road I would take.
Firstly, what is the YWB? It is a quasi-judicial body formed in relation to the Final Agreements that makes rulings on the use and care of Yukon’s water. They issue water licenses in the Yukon.
Secondly, why are wetlands under the authority of YWB? As Yukon Conservation Society’s Sebastian Jones said, “Wetlands are defined by water”, and water is under YWB’s authority.
Finally, why is placer mining in wetlands? A substantial amount of placer mining takes place in wetlands, predominantly within the traditional territories of the Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in (TH) and Na-Cho Nyak Dun (NND) First Nations.
Since 2016 the Yukon Socio-Economic Assessment Board (YESAB) has determined mining in undisturbed wetlands should be avoided. YESAB reviews development projects within the Yukon.
Due to a deep concern about the future of wetlands, the lack of protection and/or land use plans, TH called for this public interest hearing.
The message I took home is that we need to immediately stop the further destruction of wetlands while taking a pause to plan and honor the land and waters. These ‘kidneys of the waterways’, these places that fight climate change for us, these harbourers of deep biological diversity, these places where cultural connections span millennia, these wetlands are where we must draw a line.
We need to consider how our actions degrade the very ecosystems we depend on, ecosystems which now depend upon the choices we will make. We need to stop the spiritual violence Chief Roberta Joseph spoke of taking place on TH land. Where her people have become alienated from a whole watershed that they have a deep cultural connection to. We need to stop the devastation of wetlands Chief Simon Mervyn of NND spoke of and invest in the land-use planning promised 25 years ago when NND’s Final Agreement was signed.
Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation Elder Stan Njootli Sr.’s closing words were, “Change is inevitable for protecting wetlands. So, how do we do it? Collectively, we must protect some original wetlands as they are. George W. Bush said, ‘we are addicted to oil.’ Here, we are looking at a number of people addicted to gold.”
There is but one health, where the health of the natural world is tied so closely to human health as to be inseparable. Our modern world is teaching us this lesson, as are First Nations throughout the Yukon—will we listen and learn?
You can learn more about wetlands through at http://yukonconservation.org, or, soon enough, watch the public hearing recordings at: https://www.yukonwaterboard.ca/wetlands_hearing.htm
You may also submit comments to the waterboard through email or their website.
Yukon Conservation Society