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Assessing the Past: Environmental Impact Assessments and Contested Historical Narratives in the Yukon Territory

Thu, March 15, 3:30 to 5:00pm, Riverside Convention Center, MR 8

Abstract

The 1970s saw a transition in northern Canadian natural resource development with the coincidental and sometime complementary emergence of a growing environmental consciousness and Indigenous rights movement. This was most famously demonstrated by the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline Inquiry (MVPI), a hearing that visited many northern communities primarily in the Northwest Territories soliciting insights into how the development of a pipeline through the Mackenzie Valley would affect Indigenous communities and the environment. Following the MVPI was the lesser known Alaska Highway Pipeline Inquiry (AHPI). This inquiry gathered input into the environmental and sociocultural impacts of a pipeline following the Alaska Highway through the Yukon and northern British Columbia. Through the AHPI, the Yukon’s Indigenous peoples gained a platform where they could not only raise their concerns over how the pipeline would affect their subsistence activities but also advance counternarratives to the dominant historical discourse of colonialism, most notably the construction of the Alaska Highway during the Second World War. In the ensuing years the Canadian and Yukon governments developed various environmental assessment regimes, eventually resulting in the formation of the Yukon Environmental and Socioeconomic Assessment Board (YESAB) in 2003. YESAB was a product of land claim negotiations in the Yukon. In addition to assessing the potential sociocultural and environmental impacts of proposed development projects, in the years following the AHPI retrospective impact assessments were conducted on past resource developments, such as the Cyprus-Anvil Mine. My paper will analyse Indigenous involvement in environmental impact assessments in the Yukon Territory focusing specifically in the Kaska, an Indigenous nation located in southeast Yukon and northern British Columbia. It will examine how the Kaska used environmental assessments to advance counternarratives against dominant historical discourses and articulate the connections between the environmental and sociocultural impacts of natural resource development.

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