The Yukon government and the Liard First Nation are touting a new agreement that's intended to improve access to a mineral-rich area of southeast Yukon.
The planned upgrades to the Nahanni Range Road were first announced in 2017, as part of the Yukon Resource Gateway Project — a $360-million project funded by the federal and Yukon governments.
The new agreement means the Liard First Nation is on board with the first phase of the Nahanni Range Road project, and will see direct benefits. The first phase will see $17-million worth of work done on the road, including the replacement of a couple of bridges.
"The road goes through the heart of Kaska territory. A lot of our citizens exercise their traditional resource harvesting rights there," said George Morgan, chief of the Liard First Nation.
"Just from an engagement perspective, from a process perspective, I think this was a bit of a benchmark for the Yukon government," he said, referring to the agreement.
The deal means First Nation members will be trained and hired to do things like vegetation clearing, wildlife monitoring, and other work. A joint committee will also be established to look for ways to minimize the negative impacts of the project.
"We pushed hard to have a committee set up that will be funded," Morgan said.
"We'll look at the impacts beginning in phase one, and all the way through ... we need to make sure that the environmental and the and the socioeconomic impacts are considered."
Ranj Pillai, Yukon's mines minister, says the project will benefit all Yukoners by improving access to "world-class" mineral deposits.
"From what's been explored, there's been some very significant deposits that have been found — from gold, to zinc, and so on," Pillai said.
The existing road connects the Robert Campbell Highway, north of Watson Lake, to the Yukon/N.W.T. border. Two mining companies currently use the road for projects in the area — Golden Predator Mining, and Selwyn Chihong.
Pillai says it's important that First Nations are consulted and included from the beginning of the upgrade work.
"There is a lot of things that have to be figured out before you start building a very significant road. So that's the work that had to be done," he said.
"In this particular case, we feel we're building a foundation that gets us the proper pathway, where everybody is respected ... It's a big balancing act for all of us, for the leadership at [Liard First Nation], as well as our government."
Work could begin in a few months.
"We are hoping that maybe we can get going on some work next summer, and put some people to work," said Morgan.