Consultation required before hunting on Kaska Dena territory, lawsuit claims

Consultation required before hunting on Kaska Dena territory, lawsuit claims

A group that represents Kaska First Nations in B.C. is suing the Yukon government, in a case that could have profound implications on hunting rights.

The Kaska Dena Council (KDC) says it should be consulted before the Yukon government issues any hunting permits on what KDC calls Kaska traditional territory.

The case could mean that First Nations in B.C. have a say when it comes to hunting that happens across the provincial/territorial border.

The Kaska Dena Council defines traditional Kaska territory as about 23 per cent of Yukon.

It also says its members' traditional territory accounts for 10 per cent of B.C and an unspecified percentage of land in the Northwest Territories — about 240,000 square kilometres in all. 

A summary trial began Wednesday in Yukon Supreme Court. It is being heard by Supreme Court Justice Ron Veale, who previously heard Yukon's famous Peel watershed land use case.

On Wednesday, Veale looked at stacked binders of documents and court precedents and told attorneys he expected a long week, as they debate a complex trans-boundary case. 

"I tell you, the end is a long way away," Veale said.

In opening statements, Kaska Dena Council attorney Claire Anderson compared hunting to mining, and argued the latter wouldn't be approved without prior consultation.

She said hunting also "can affect Kaska title."

A statement of claim from the Kaska Dena Council says the Yukon government's "failure to consult with, and accommodate KDC" prior to issuing hunting licences "is inconsistent with the honour of the Crown and constitutes a breach of the Yukon government's duty to consult." 

The case is being heard amid some rising tension about hunting rights in Yukon. 

This year the Ross River Dena Council — a Kaska First Nation in Yukon considered an "affiliate" of the Kaska Dena Council nations — published an advertisement demanding that non-Kaska hunters obtain a permit from the First Nation before hunting on what it calls its traditional territory.

Yukon gov't denies exclusive right to land

The Yukon government's statement of defence says it "denies the plaintiff has a right to exclusive use" of the area. 

The statement also "denies the plaintiff has established Aboriginal Title to the area described."

None of the Kaska Dena Council's member nations have signed land claims.

The case is unusual because the Kaska Dena Council is not in itself a First Nation. It is a registered society, incorporated in 1981.

All Kaska First Nations in B.C. and Yukon have a combined population of about 3,000 people.

The representative group has recently seen some controversy as to its powers. Last year, the Kaska Dena Council asked the federal government for a $1.5 billion lump sum land claim payment — a request that was disavowed by some First Nations in Yukon.

Similarly, not all of the Kaska nations agree with the lawsuit. 

Liard First Nation disagrees with case

The Liard First Nation has argued the Kaska Dena Council "has no standing to bring this action" to court. 

It is considered a defendant in the case, along with the Yukon government. 

Though the Liard First Nation says it is also concerned about hunters on its traditional territory, it argues that the Kaska Dena Council does not have the authority to make decisions or launch lawsuits on its members' behalf.

The summary trial is scheduled to last five days. 

One of the members of the Kaska Dena Council is the Daylu Dena Council, a sub-council of Liard First Nation situated in B.C. 


Correction : A previous version of this article said the Kaska Dena Council represents five First Nations in both B.C. and Yukon. In fact, the group represents three First Nations in B.C. Two other Kaska nations in Yukon are not represented by the council.(Jul 12, 2018 12:26 PM)