I was asked to contribute to the ongoing consultation process for the Peel Watershed Regional Land Use Plan. Here are my thoughts:
Feedback Peel Watershed Regional Land Use Plan Consultation
My personal opinion is that the Peel River region has sufficient natural value to be designated as a whole (=100%) a protected area similar to a National Park. However, I see that various stakeholders have an interest in accessing some resources in the Peel River watershed:
For First Nations it is an area for subsistence, primarily fishing, but also hunting, berry picking and the collection of other plant materials for medicinal uses. As the representatives of a colonial power, the Yukon Government also has to realize that the Peel River watershed has spiritual values to the indigenous people of that area, the people that have lived on the land for centuries, that live on the land today, and the ones yet-to-come. This land is part of the people – a concept that is hard to grasp for us Westerners who have developed property rights, buy and sell real estate like a commodity, with no emotional or spiritual attachment, and see us as enlightened beings separate from the natural world.
Some Yukoners and visitors to the territory use this area as a temporary place for recreation. The Peel River watershed is a treasure for those who dare to go there, canoe down one of the rivers, hike up a mountainside to fetch a breathtaking view, and come back and share these witnessed moments with those who are content knowing that this area exists. I know many people in this society who find solace simply in knowing that there are pristine natural areas and habitats left on this planet. They have no compulsion or desire to go there themselves and create the slightest disturbance.
Some of the more affluent members of society will enjoy the Peel River watershed for their big game hunting. Again, this is not my cup of tea, but it is something that I can live with. Shoot the moose, share the meat, and be happy with your trophy and the pictures.
But then, there is the industrial minded in boardrooms of multinational corporations. Instead of rocks, they see minerals; instead of landscape and habitat, the industrial mind sees interests and potential resource that can be sold. The more I stake, the more I make, and the higher the speculative price for the claims the better, because it creates an aura of scarcity. Greed and affluence are the drivers, and the natural values of the Peel River watershed are an inconvenience and in the way for extracting the riches. Much of that goes on long before the first ore is taken from the ground to be processed into something that is useful for a consumerist society.
There is a whole army of people that runs along with these industrial interests. They are happy to make a dollar as worker ants, staking, drilling, dozing, trucking, rigging, fracturing… This is what the government generally refers to as economic development: Guys in the field who work as needed a few weeks or months, come into town to buy a fancy pick-up truck with the fast cash, get drunk, get laid, and then go to Vegas or Hawaii for their holidays.
And then there is the army that mines the miners: Suppliers and service companies with a storefront presence in the territory. This is also economic development: It is more stationary, but most of the money gets only collected here in the territory and then flows away into the big market place, because there is no substantial production of anything happening in the Yukon. The business owners are getting rich with the resale margins only. Consultants sell their ideas at incredible prices, and lawyers render services those who cannot agree or cheat each other. And the hype drives up property prices to the point where even affluent families occasionally have to go to the food bank because their bank obligations are eating up their income.
I am painting this picture because I have lived through several resource related cycles of boom and bust here in the Yukon. Communities outside of Whitehorse have not benefitted from these developments, less than a handful of people attracted by the mineral riches have ever come to stay (longer than a night). Local people get some auxiliary jobs, some skills training, a few dollars, and dumped when no longer needed.
None of the indicators show that more than a century of mining related activity has contributed to building a sustainable, inclusive society in the Yukon where all members feel valued, where differences are respected, and where basic needs are met so all Yukoners can live with dignity, prosper, and unfold their full potential. Unemployment rates among people of First Nations ancestry continue to be at least threefold in comparison to the rate of all Yukoners. Instead, labour shortages are filled with willing workers from around the globe. Some mining companies will bring their own workforce, bypassing the local context altogether.
Is that why we need to forgo the democratic process that has led to an acceptable compromise in a seven-year process of consultation with all the stakeholders? The Final Recommended Plan is the result of a fair planning process that respected the legal obligations of shared governance between the colonial administration in Ottawa, its satellite government in Whitehorse, and the First Nations governments of the nations affected. All stakeholders had their voice heard in the planning and consultation phases.
Who is the driver behind the closed-door amendments and changes proposed unilaterally by the territorial government? Why did the Yukon government not bring in the experts and these scenarios when it was part of the Peel Watershed Planning Commission process? Why can the Yukon government not accept that the collective wisdom of the planning process set aside eighty percent of the Peel River watershed for protection without compromising previously acquired rights for resource exploration?
Democracy is a system where the power lies with the people. Government is here to represent the people and to develop, maintain, and enforce the legal framework that facilitates a meaningful life together within its jurisdiction. Unilateral top-down action, as demonstrated by the proposed New Land Use Designations, to accommodate and suit special interests is an autocratic action that violates every principle of democracy.
These are the reasons why I don’t further consider the merits of the New Land Use Designations. I have the humility to accept the Final Recommended Plan brought forward by the Peel Watershed Planning Commission as an outcome of a fair, democratic process. However, I continue to support the idea of protecting the entire Peel River watershed as a protected area to maintain its integrity as a reminder of a natural and spiritual space in a secular world increasingly affected by globalization and consumerism.
Whitehorse, December 14, 2012
Othmar F. Arnold
PS: I am aware that my position on the Peel Watershed Land Use Plan has implications for the future. I will gladly forego the 10th generation of smart phones that might be delayed or have a limited availability at a high price due to the lack of timely mine development in the Peel River watershed… 😉