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Court ruling expected soon on Peel watershed

“God spoke: ‘Let us make human beings in our image, make them reflecting our nature [. . . ].’ God blessed them: ‘Prosper! Reproduce! Fill Earth! Take charge! Be responsible for fish in the sea and birds in the air, for every living thing that moves on the face of Earth’” (Gen.1:26,28 MSG).

The Supreme Court of Canada is expected to make a ruling soon on the Peel watershed debate, ending a five-year battle over the future of this unique area of northern Yukon. Conflict hinges on this question: Should the watershed be developed or protected?

The Peel watershed, part of the Yellowstone to Yukon wildlife corridor, “is one of the last remaining intact mountain river ecosystems in North America,” equal in size to Nova Scotia. While several “grandfathered mining claims” exist in the watershed, the majority of the land remains untouched. “With only limited human disturbance, the 68,000 square kilometres of vast wilderness burst with animal and plant life.” Additionally, “for the four First Nations who call it home, the pure rivers and majestic mountains of the Peel have provided physical and cultural nourishment for generations,” according to local groups working to safeguard the land. As Jimmy Johnny, a First Nations hunter and guide in the Peel watershed, told the Yukon News, “The Yukon government is showing no consideration for what people want, what people have said over the past years of Peel consultations, and the government is showing no consideration of the land. . . . I want to keep all these areas intact for future generations to go out there and learn how to survive.”

Rich in wildlife and cultural significance, the Peel watershed is also thought to be rich in fuel and mineral resources, sought after by industry and government alike. Pursuit of these resources would demand road access and an increase of human involvement in the watershed. Thus an independent body, the Peel Watershed Planning Commission, was formed to create a comprehensive land use plan. After seven years of democratic meetings involving many diverse stakeholders, the Final Recommended Plan called for 80 percent protection of the watershed, with the remainder open to industry. In the final public consultation, the plan had 94 percent support. The Yukon government, however, rejected this plan, opting instead to have 70 percent of the region “open to potential development.” Provincial courts decided that this broke current treaty agreements. 

Thus the case before the Supreme Court now is whether the Yukon government did break a promise of constitutional significance by pursuing their closed-door plan. Its ruling is expected six months from the March 22, 2017 court date, perhaps by the end of September. The decision will impact not only the Peel watershed but future land use decision-making; it will also likely affect already tender and tumultuous Indigenous/Canadian government relations. 

To prosper, reproduce and fill the earth in a way that reflects our nature in God’s image can seem an insurmountable task. Which issues should we care about? How do we pray over these matters? It begins with learning and listening, as well as by realizing that being responsible stewards of creation is a profound and complex calling.     


  • Candice is a freelance writer and editor. She lives in Bracebridge, Ontario with her husband and three children. Get in touch with Candice by emailing moc.liamg@yram.yerdua.ecidnac.

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