A Yukon First Nation has withdrawn lawsuits against the Canadian government that could have bogged down any Alaska Highway gas pipeline project in drawn-out court action.
Federal Indian Affairs Minister Robert Nault was in Whitehorse today for a signing ceremony that will see the Kaska Dene retire five lawsuits against the government as a prelude to resuming land claims negotiations.
In return, the government has agreed to negotiate with five First Nations whose land covers 480 miles of highway pipeline right of way in the southeast Yukon and northern British Columbia.
Tim Koepke, the Yukon's chief federal land claims negotiator, said any deal will include the Kaska in any consultations or decisions relating to resource development issues.
He said the focus of the latest agreement is to "put down tools on litigation and pick up tools on negotiation." He said there is confidence that a deal can be reached by next March.
The Kaska land claim was first accepted in 1973,but a final agreement has yet to be reached.
Kaska chief negotiator Dave Porter stunned proponents of the Alaska Highway route a week ago by threatening to use the unresolved claim as a bargaining chip.
"We can assist in the expeditious processing of these (pipeline) projects, or we can be their worst nightmare," he said.
Koepke said the lawsuits would not have altered the pipeline right of way, but could have created considerable uncertainty about the conditions under which a pipeline would be built.