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Tr’ondek Hwech’in First Nation Chief Roberta Joseph holds up a copy of the Supreme Court decision as Na Cho Nyak Dan First Nation Chief Simon Mervyn (left) and Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation Chief Bruce Charlie (right) look on during a news conference on Friday in Ottawa. (Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS) A group of Yukon First Nations and environmental groups say Friday’s decision from the Supreme Court of Canada on the Peel watershed planning process is "a huge victory" for them.

"It’s the outcome that we were hoping for," said Roberta Joseph, Chief of the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in First Nation, one of three First Nations who fought the case.

"This is a victory for the Peel watershed, and the integrity of our final agreements. This is a victory for democracy, Yukon First Nations, and Yukoners."

In a unanimous decision, the top court overturned a Yukon Appeals Court ruling that rolled back years of planning and instead ordered the Yukon government to consider a final recommended plan proposed in 2011 by an independent commission.

The land use plan would determine the fate of the Peel watershed region in north Yukon, a vast expanse of sub-Arctic wilderness. The commission’s final recommended plan would protect about 80 per cent of the area from development. The Peel watershed region covers about 68,000 square kilometres of pristine sub-Arctic wilderness. (Ellen Woodley) The Yukon government, in 2012, sought to discard that plan in favour of its own, which would protect just 30 per cent of the area. ‘Our choice was never to go to court’

Friday’s ruling made clear that the government’s 2012 plan had no validity, as it ignored the land use planning process spelled out in Yukon’s Umbrella Final Agreement with First Nations.

"The decision from the Supreme Court of Canada has upheld our final agreements," Joseph said.

"Our choice was never to go to court, but the former government’s idea of land use planning breached our final agreements, and we had no choice but to protect them." ‘Today, we move forward. Today, we move forward with clarity, and most importantly, we move forward together,’ said Yukon Premier Sandy Silver, seen here with Justice Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee. (Claudiane Samson/Radio-Canada) Yukoners elected a new government last year, and Premier Sandy Silver has said that he would accept the final recommended plan from the Peel planning commission.

On Friday, he reiterated that, and agreed with the First Nations that the top court’s ruling was "a victory for all of Yukon."

"Today, we move forward. Today, we move forward with clarity, and most importantly, we move forward together," he said.

"We believe that when people look back at this moment in time, they’re going to see this as the beginning of a new era, one that’s based upon reconciliation." Government can reject plan

The Supreme Court ruling, however, does not force the Yukon government to adopt the final plan. That may have implications for future land use planning processes in Yukon, which have been on hold pending the resolution of the Peel case.

"It is premature to interpret the scope of Yukon’s authority to reject the Final Recommended Plan after it consults with the affected First Nations, and it is unnecessary to do so in order to resolve this appeal," the decision reads.

The court orders the planning process back to the point where "Yukon can approve, reject, or modify the Final Recommended Plan as it applies to non-settlement land after consultation with the specified parties." Margaret Rosling, a lawyer who represented the First Nations and environmental groups called Friday’s decision ‘a huge victory,’ and ‘a complete success for these plaintiffs.’ (CBC) But Margaret Rosling, a lawyer who represented […]

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