Sustainability and Indigenous Interests in Regional Land Use Planning: Case Study of the Peel Watershed Process in Yukon, Canada
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Canada’s northern territories, including the Yukon, are facing significant social, economic, political and ecological change. Devolution processes and comprehensive land claim agreements with self-governing First Nations have given rise to new land and resource decision making processes, including Regional Land Use Planning (RLUP). Project level Environmental Assessments (EAs) have been a main tool for governments to meet some of their fiduciary responsibilities to Indigenous peoples under Section 35 of Canada’s Constitution and to mitigate potentially adverse environmental impacts of non-renewable resource development projects. However, project level EAs are ill-equipped to address cumulative effects, regional conservation needs, broad alternatives and overall sustainability considerations central to Indigenous interests. RLUPs, if designed and authorized to guide project planning and assessment, are a more promising tool for addressing these interests, but how well they can serve both sustainability and Indigenous interests is not yet suitably demonstrated. RLUP processes established under comprehensive land claim agreements with First Nations in the Yukon enable cooperative decision-making about the future of the territory, including the pace and scale of non-renewable resource development and regions set aside for conservation. A qualitative case study of the Peel Watershed planning process was undertaken for the purposes of this thesis. The case embodies the tensions and challenges associated with RLUP in the Yukon to date; two competing plans were developed for the region and the case culminated in a decision by the Supreme Court of Canada in December 2017. In this thesis, an analytical framework is developed and subsequently applied to the Peel Watershed Planning Commission and the Yukon Government plan for the Peel Watershed in order to evaluate their potential effectiveness in meeting sustainability and First Nations interests. The framework was built through attention to case and context specified criteria, responding to broad generic sustainability requirements (as established by Gibson et al. 2005), an initial set of challenges and opportunities identified through a literature review of sustainability and Indigenous interests in northern resource development, and more specific regional challenges and opportunities for attention from the case context as well as over 30 semi-structured interviews with key stakeholders involved in RLUP for the Peel Watershed. Evaluation of the plans according to criteria contained in the analytical framework indicate that the land use plan prepared by the Peel Watershed Planning Commission fully met a majority of the criteria (77%) while the plan prepared by the Yukon Government fully met only 3%. The Peel Watershed case points to tensions between two competing visions for the territory, embodying “conservation versus development” conflicts. Key stakeholder interviews confirmed these tensions while pointing to broader issues of power, authority and interpretation of comprehensive land claim agreements between the Yukon Government and First Nations. The Yukon Party Government decision to substantially modify the plan developed by an independent planning body demonstrated a narrow interpretation of its responsibilities and went against the spirit and intent of the Umbrella Final Agreement and the associated RLUP process. Procedural areas for improvement were revealed, applying to both future planning for the Peel Watershed and other Yukon planning regions. These include needs for reconsideration of the Yukon’s current open staking policies and regulations, early consultation and engagement applying cross-cultural communication methodologies, more appropriate planning timelines and budgets, clarification of the role of Regional Planning Commissions, transparent planning process participation in good faith to avoid the conflicts and tensions associated with the Peel process and finally, the need for a territorial protected area strategy to guide future RLUP processes. Major contributions of this research include the case-specified analytical framework, which offers a novel approach for holistically addressing both sustainability and First Nations interests in resource development processes. The case study of the RLUP process for the Peel Watershed and subsequent evaluation of the associated regional plans also represent substantive contributions. Application of the framework facilitated the identification of several practical policy implications and recommendations for the Yukon generally, for future RLUP initiatives for the Peel Watershed as well as additional planning processes in the Yukon established under the Umbrella Final Agreement.
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Emily Caddell (2018). Sustainability and Indigenous Interests in Regional Land Use Planning: Case Study of the Peel Watershed Process in Yukon, Canada. UWSpace. http://hdl.handle.net/10012/13947