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Peel Watershed Regional Land Use Planning Conflict, Canada

After the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in favour of First Nations in the Peel Watershed Region, Yukon. The Land Use Planning Commission, Yukon government and First Nations groups are heading back to the drawing board to ensure environmental protection!


                   The Peel Watershed conflict is a unique case that pitted the Territorial Yukon government and the First Nations of the Peel region. The watershed covers 67, 431 square kilometers in the northeast Yukon[1]. In 2004, the territorial government developed the Peel Watershed Regional Land Use Plan [PWRLUP] for land use development in the large, unpopulated, and undeveloped area with the potential for oil, gas, and hard rock mineral development[2]. In July 2011, the Peel Watershed Planning Commission produced a Final Recommended Peel Watershed Regional Land Use Plan which recommended that 80 percent of the region should be protected as Special Management Areas and designated as wilderness areas, while the remaining 20 percent of the watershed would be open to “nonrenewable resource-use opportunities" subject to key land-use and environmental management considerations, including enhanced community consultation where specific.” However, the Yukon government presented a set of counter-proposals that only protected 30% of the watershed, significantly reducing environmental protection and opening up the remaining 70% for mineral extraction and oil and gas exploration. This proposals were presented without consulting the First Nations living on and/or using the land, including First Nation of Nacho Nyak Dun; Tr’ondek Hwech’in; and thee Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation.  Indigenous groups mobilized claiming that the territorial government’s land use plan “did not respect the Chapter 11 process.” Chief of the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in First Nations, Eddie Taylor said “To us that land is sacred and should be preserved for future generations. As our elders say, the Peel is our church, our university and our breadbasket”. First Nations and environmental justice groups brought the Yukon government to court and after five-years of legal battles the case was appealed to Canada’s highest court. On December 1, 2017, after years of court battles, the Supreme Court made a unanimous decision ruling in favour of the Indigenous peoples of the Peel Watershed region. The Court declared the parties must return to the point in the process where the territorial government can either approve, reject, or modify the Initial plan recommended by the Commission. Christina MacDonald, Executive Director of the Yukon Conservation Society, stated, “This is a huge, huge victory for Indigenous people and it’s cause for environmental celebration on a global scale.”[6]

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Peel Watershed Regional Land Use Planning Conflict, Canada
State or province:Yukon
Location of conflict:Peel Watershed region
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict: 1st level:Infrastructure and Built Environment
Type of conflict: 2nd level :Mineral ore exploration
Establishment of reserves/national parks
Land acquisition conflicts
Oil and gas exploration and extraction
Building materials extraction (quarries, sand, gravel)
Specific commodities:Tourism services
Natural Gas
Iron ore
Ecosystem Services
Project Details and Actors
Project details:

In 2004 the Peel Watershed Planning Commission was formed and the process of planning began under the Umbrella Final Agreement. The First Nations in the region advocated for 100% protection of the Peel. After three years of research and consultation the first commission published the first draft, which zoned half the Peel for industrial development. Indigenous peoples expressed that the main priority should be environmental protection and the recommended plan was altered to 80% protection of the Peel. In 2011, the Final Recommended Land Use Plan called for 55% permanent protection, 25% interim protection for possible future plans, with 20% of the region to be open for roads, industrial, and mineral development. The following year it was discovered the Yukon government had its own closed-door plan for the Peel region, favouring extensive industrial development. In 2014, the government rejected the Final Recommended Plan and adopted its own plan to open 71% of the Peel to roads and resource extraction. At this point First Nations groups and conservation groups began legal action. Concluding the legal battles, in 2018, the YLUPC has identified goals and objectives to ensure effective land use planning in the Yukon. They have laid out a plan to carry out in the next three years to fulfill the mandate laid out under Chapter 11 of the UFA. Their goals are:

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Project area:6,743,100
Type of populationUrban
Start of the conflict:01/10/2004
Company names or state enterprises:Yukon Land Use Planning Council (YLUPC) from Canada - Company in charge of the Final Recommended Plan for the Peel Watershed Region
Regional Land Use Planning Commission (RLUPC) from Canada - Apart of land use planning process
Relevant government actors:Yukon government, Yukon Supreme Court, Yukon Court of Appeal, Supreme Court of Canada
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society Yukon [] and Yukon Conservation Society []
Conflict and Mobilization
IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Local ejos
Local scientists/professionals
Yukon's environmental groups, Indigenous groups: The Na-cho Nyak Dun, the Tetlit Gwich’in, the Vuntut Gwitchin, and the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in First Nations groups
Forms of mobilization:Artistic and creative actions (eg guerilla theatre, murals)
Development of a network/collective action
Development of alternative proposals
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Appeals/recourse to economic valuation of the environment
Impacts of the project
Environmental ImpactsPotential: Air pollution, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Food insecurity (crop damage), Genetic contamination, Global warming, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil contamination, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Noise pollution, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity, Mine tailing spills
Health ImpactsPotential: Accidents, Malnutrition, Infectious diseases, Other environmental related diseases
Socio-economical ImpactsPotential: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Displacement, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place, Violations of human rights, Other socio-economic impacts
Project StatusProposed (exploration phase)
Conflict outcome / response:Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
Application of existing regulations
Project cancelled
The government has withdrawn all mineral exploration in the area until January 2020.
Development of alternatives:The Yukon government has issued a temporary withdrawal from mineral staking for all lands in the Peel Watershed Region. This applies to subsurface mineral staking administered under the Quartz Mining Act and Placer Mining Act until January 1, 2020. Any work on existing mineral claims is permitted, oil and gas extraction will also not be issued in this region during the same period.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Yes
Briefly explain:Yes, environmental justice was served. According to all parties involved, all agree they are going in the right direction for the future of the Peel Watershed. Consultation and approval of all parties is the number one priority. Chief of Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in, Roberta Joseph stated, “We are looking forward to consulting on the final recommend plan now that we have clarity from the Supreme Court. Throughout the planning process, First Nations people and Yukoners told us they wanted increased protection for this pristine, natural area and we are eager to hear from them again as we move through final consultation and approval of the plan.” It is too early to tell how the Yukon government and the First Nation groups will cooperate with each other this time around, but all parties seem to be very optimistic.
Sources and Materials
Related laws and legislations - Juridical texts related to the conflict

Supreme Court of Canada decision - First Nation of Nacho Nyak Dun v. Yukon Government
[click to view]

Summary of First Nation of Nacho Nyak Dun v. Yukon Government case held at the Supreme Court of Canada
[click to view]

Umbrella Final Agreement between The Government of Canada, The Council for Yukon Indians, and The Government of Yukon (29 May 1993),
[click to view]

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

Lovelace, Robert. 2009. Speaking for ourselves. Prologue: Notes from prison.

A Yukon Regional Land Use Strategy. Report. Whitehorse, Yukon: Ryder Communications Management, 2017. 1-30.
[click to view]

Issues and Interests Report. Issue brief. Peel Watershed Planning Commission. Yukon: Peel Watershed Planning Commission, 2005. 1-24.
[click to view]

Yukon Land Use Planning Council: Strategic Plan, 2018-2021. Report. Yukon: Cambio, 2017. 1-15.
[click to view]

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

CBC News: Peel Watershed Supreme Court Canada Decision
[click to view]

CTV News: SCC rules against Yukon government in watershed protection case
[click to view]

CBC News. 2009. Peel watershed draft plan creates ‘economic disaster’: Yukon mining chamber. CBC News online:
[click to view]

CBC News. 2014. First Nations, environment groups sue Yukon over Peel plan. CBC News online:
[click to view]

CBC News. 2014. Peel plan protesters rally across Yukon and N.W.T. CBC News online:
[click to view]

Cruickshank, Ainslie. 2012. Voice from the Yukon’s peel watershed land-use debates. Canadian Geographic.
[click to view]

Clynes, Tom. 2017. Vast Yukon wilderness protected in ruling for Native tribes. National Geographic.
[click to view]

"Together Today for Our Children Tomorrow." Council of Yukon First Nations.
[click to view]

Tobin, C. (2002, Apr 01). Four Yukon First Nations reach land claims agreement with Yukon, Ottawa. Canadian Press NewsWire.
[click to view]

"Government of Yukon and First Nations Leaders Set Course for Final Regional Land Use Plan for the Peel Watershed." Government of Yukon.
[click to view]

"Supreme Court of Canada." Protect the Peel.
[click to view]

Shirley McLean. 2017. Yukon chamber of mine concerned about SCOC peel decision. APTN News online:
[click to view]

"Peel Watershed Planning Commission." Peel Watershed Planning Commission.
[click to view]

"Peel Watershed Regional Land Use Planning - Regional Land Use Planning- Government of Yukon." Regional Land Use Planning.
[click to view]

Olynyk, John, Keith Bergner, and Toby Kruger. "Implementation of Modern Treaties: First Nation of Nacho Nyak Dun v. Yukon." Project Law Blog. 2017.
[click to view]

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Social media hashtag: #protectthepeel

A website dedicated to the Peel Watershed. They do not want lose this unparalleled Canadian treasure. They are able to show all levels of government, and the public, that the Peel Watershed is precious to Yukoners, Canadians, and the world.
[click to view]

Video: Yukon Land Use Planning Council: Our Land, Our Future: Regional Planning in the Yukon
[click to view]

Video: Protect the Peel Goes to Ottawa
[click to view]

Other documents

The beautiful Peel Watershed region.
[click to view]

The Peel Watershed region and the Yukon territory.
[click to view]

The beautiful Peel Watershed region.
[click to view]

[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:Olivia Hewitt - [email protected] - Bishop's University
Last update05/02/2019
Legal notice / Aviso legal
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