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Community People Call for High Level of Protection for the Peel Watershed

from the Peel River Watershed Working Group

Representatives from Tetlit Gwich\'in, Na-Cho N\'yak Dun, Tsiigehtchic communities and representatives from northern Renewable Resource Councils developed a sweeping vision for the Peel River Watershed at a Gathering held a week ago. People from around the Watershed came together in Mayo to reaffirm their role as stewards of the Peel Watershed and to chart its future.

Over 70 participants at the Gathering worked for three days to develop a common vision for the Peel Watershed. They envision an intact watershed where the water and air remain clean, the fish and wildlife remain healthy, and where traditional knowledge can be passed on to youth out on the land. “We heard a strong plea to protect the Peel River watershed as a source of our culture and identity and we want to make sure it stays the way it is now and for future generations,” says James Andre, Peel Gathering community organizer and co-chair.

The Elders of all four First Nations, who described the Gathering as a meeting of “brothers and sisters”, developed a common statement to provide direction for their people. In it, the Elders collectively state “We want our people to protect the Peel Watershed, which means the Watershed remains as it was created, with a high level of protection for the land and water and our heritage, and all living things, where we can continue to practice our traditional way of life and care for the land, water, air, wildlife, and medicinal plants.” They go on to say “We want our people to find a way to give a high level of protection to the Peel Watershed, in the way a park gives protection. With such protection in place, we still practice our rights to hunt, fish, trap and use the land.”

The Elders statement says “We are seeing great changes in the Earth, such as climate change, yet the Watershed is still a natural place.” They envision the Watershed as a place of learning for their youth to acquire traditional knowledge and skills.

The group reaffirmed the provisions of a 1990 Vancouver agreement among the Na-Cho N\'yak Dun, the Tetlit Gwich\'in, Tr\'ondek Hwech\'in, and Vuntut Gwitchin, which proclaimed the principle of “protecting the Peel Watershed in perpetuity from all damage to harvesting, wildlife, and fish habitat, and the quantity and quality of water flow.”

Youth from Mayo and Fort McPherson also met throughout the Gathering. The role of the Watershed for youth was an important focus of discussion for all participants. The youth talked about wanting economic opportunities for themselves, such as guiding and outfitting companies. The Elders statement emphasizes the critical importance of youth having these opportunities, and being able to “make a living from the land in its natural state.”

A community working group was established as a result of the Gathering. They are tasked with implementing the vision statement to protect the Peel Watershed and support a full and immediate moratorium on all claim staking and extraction of non-renewable resources until land use planning is complete. As part of a community driven leadership, selected representatives will be ensuring the work is done from the interests of their communities first and foremost before working with other non profits.

“We, as concerned peoples have come together to reaffirm our rights and concern for full protection of the Peel River Watershed that includes a moratorium on resource extraction,” says Elaine Alexie, Peel River Watershed Working Group member. She continues “a big cause for concern is the fact that we as peoples have not been adequately consulted for future planning of the Peel Watershed, and yet, governments such as that of the Yukon Territory are allowing resource exploration in various locations within the watershed. We have an inherent right to self determination and must be consulted on all levels that involve any and all appropriation, commercial use and intrusion onto our lands, waters, ecosystems and natural resources. We reserve the right to say no.”

Additional working group actions include working closely with an Elders Advisory Committee, developing a conservation strategy for the Three Rivers watersheds of the Wind, Snake, and Bonnet Plume Rivers, and ensuring community input to the ongoing Peel Watershed Planning Commission. A major interest for full protection for the Peel Watershed is the idea in the form of a ‘Tribal Park’, where a model under co-management relationship between the First Nations groups is to be operated and owned by the First Nation communities within the Peel River Watershed.

The community vision statement describes the Peel Watershed as the place where all the rivers flow from their headwaters in the mountains into the Peel River, including all the major tributaries: the Wind, Snake, Bonnet Plume, Ogilvie, Blackstone, and Hart Rivers.

The Peel River watershed is located in the central Yukon and covers over 67,500 square kilometres. It includes traditional lands of the Tetlit Gwich\'in, Trondek Hwech\'in, Na-cho N\'yak Dun and Vuntut Gwich\'in First Nations. Land use planning is currently underway for the watershed.

For more information, contact:

James Andre
Co-chair of Peel River Watershed Community Gathering and
Peel River Watershed Working Group Member

Frank Patterson
Co-Chair of Peel Watershed Community Gathering and
Peel River Watershed Working Group Member