Two First Nations in Whitehorse say there are a lot more people out exploring and enjoying their settlement lands this year — and that those people are not always cleaning up after themselves.
“Unauthorized structures being erected, cutting of trees and trail development … increased waste, litter and unauthorized dumping,” explained Kristina Kane, chief of the Ta’an Kwäch’än Council (TKC).
“Those aspects are magnified with the increased usage right now.”
Kane says the COVID-19 pandemic and physical distancing rules mean that a lot of people are looking to get outside these days, closer to home. So First Nation settlement lands in and around Whitehorse are being well-used by campers, hikers, ATVers, and others.
“We do have wildlife monitors that go out on a daily basis to patrol settlement lands and traditional territories. So just from their reports, there’s a definite increase,” Kane said.
“Obviously there is an impact on all the vegetation, on animal habitat, things of that sort.”
She didn’t name any specific areas, but referred more generally to the TKC’s lands around Lake Laberge, north of Whitehorse.
For the Kwanlin Dün First Nation, settlement lands in the popular Fish Lake area are a particular concern. But Jessie Dawson, a Kwanlin Dün councillor, says all of the First Nation’s settlement lands could stand to be treated with a little more respect.
Dawson says it’s important to get that message out to people, before things get worse.
“We’re not saying stay off settlement land — not yet. But if the damage continues … we will have to take further measures,” she said.
“We have worked hard to get our lands back, through the final agreements. Our job is to care for and maintain these lands for future generations to come … we just ask that we all work together.”
Kane also says that her First Nation is not telling people to stay off Ta’an Kwäch’än land — she’s just encouraging people to tread a little more lightly.
“We’re just asking that they, you know, just provide as much respect for the land as possible, keeping it as they found it,” she said.
Kane says there is often signage indicating whether certain areas are First Nations settlement land. Or, she says, people can contact the First Nation’s office, or go online.