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Louie Tommy, left, and Gordon Peter on a bridge overlooking the Pelly River. The two Kaska elders are defending their First Nation’s right to issue hunting permits in their traditional territory, despite opposition from hunters and mixed messages from the Yukon government. (Nancy Thomson/CBC) The Ross River Dena Council’s chief says that Yukon’s environment minister is giving mixed messages to his community and hunters in the territory, as the First Nation continues to work to assert authority over its traditional hunting grounds.

This year, the council told hunters that they required a permit from the First Nation before hunting on the First Nation’s traditional territory. Questions have been raised about the council’s jurisdiction, and whether or not the permits are enforceable.

Jack Caesar, the council’s chief, said that Environment Minister Pauline Frost showed a willingness to work with the First Nation .

However, in a letter sent privately to four hunting organizations on Sept. 11, Frost said that "whether or not hunters choose to comply with the RRDC’s requests is their decision."

That came as a shock to Caesar, who was unaware of the letter, addressed to 113 concerned hunters, the Yukon Fish and Game Association, the Yukon Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, and the Wild Sheep Foundation.

"My expectation wasn’t comments of this sort," he said. "I think she was actually searching for ways to work together.

"You know, trust is a huge thing. What she said within the letter to the other hunters….it’s totally wrong, I think she should be truthful and work with us." ‘It’s about protecting our rights and our animals’

Despite mixed messages from the government, Ross River locals are determined to assert their traditional rights, arguing that they have a responsibility to the land and that it has been over-hunted in recent years.

The Ross River Dena are one of three First Nations in the territory that have not signed a final self government and land claim agreement, and the council says that it has unceded rights and title to the contested land, in particular, territory located along the North Canol Road.

The North Canol Road starts on the north side of the Pelly River, at Ross River, and continues to the N.W.T. border. Gordon Peter, the spokesperson for the Ross River Dena’s elders’ council and a former chief, says the move is not meant to be militant, or a play for power: ‘we’re going to use all our power to do what we need to do for our animals.’ (Nancy Thomson/CBC) "We’re going to use all our power to do what we need to do for our animals," said Gordon Peter, the spokesperson for the elders’ council within the First Nation and a former chief.

"It’s not about power, it’s not about anything else. It’s about protecting our rights and our animals. That’s the bottom line."

Louie Tommy, a 73-year-old Kaska elder, supports the permit hunt and restrictions. He says that he’s stopped hunting up the North Canol Road over the last decade.

"What’s the use of going up there?" Tommy said. "There’s nothing but other hunters up there. You can’t even make a good camp; you go up to Sheldon Lake, you want to put a boat in. Already about five, six boats there already. Same thing with Dragon Lake.

"Every year. And a guy gets tired of it."

Derrick Redies, an elected councillor with the First Nation, says that council took direction from the elders before coming to its decision to put a permit system in place.

"They spoke really heavily on the inherent duty and responsibility to be land stewards… about the decline of wildlife, and what they’ve seen on the land: a lot […]

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