Prime Minister Justin Trudeau poured nearly a quarter of a billion dollars into Yukon's highway network Saturday in hopes it will lead to resource development, but some Indigenous leaders remain wary about environmental implications.
Trudeau and Yukon Premier Sandy Silver announced their two governments will spend more than $360 million to improve road access to mineral-rich areas in the territory. The federal share amounts to $247 million of that total.
The governments say the money will upgrade more than 650 km of road and build or upgrade a number of bridges for highways leading into the Dawson Range in Central Yukon and the Nahanni Range in the southeast part of the territory.
Trudeau says strong infrastructure is necessary to develop Yukon's natural resources.
"It's an investment in the future of Yukon's natural resources sector, more than that it's an investment in its people," he said.
Trudeau and Silver stressed they'll consult First Nations whose traditional territories will be affected by the highway work.
Little Salmon Carmacks First Nation Chief Russell Blackjack said negotiations are ongoing and noted a main area of concern is the potential impact on the environment.
"I believe there's a lot of issues that we haven't come to an agreement with yet, especially with regards to the environment," he said.
Chief George Morgan of the Liard First Nation also said an impact benefit agreement will be negotiated for the portion of the project that will run through Kaska traditional territory. He said the project will benefit the region and create jobs.
"I really find this to be something to celebrate for the Yukon," he said.
Along the roadways highlighted in the project are several mines that have yet to receive regulatory approval. These include the Goldcorp Coffee Gold mine project and the Casino Mining Corporation's open-pit mine project.
But Samson Hartland, the executive director of the Yukon Chamber of Mines, said this is a forward-thinking commitment.
"This is a visionary investment," he said. "This is not about three or four specific mining projects. This is about unlocking Yukon's mineral potential."
Trudeau made the announcement on the second day of his visit to Whitehorse, his first in the Yukon since becoming Prime Minister. On his first night he met with locals for refreshments at the Yukon River waterfront as he extolled the virtues of the territory and its people.
Following Saturday's announcement he surprised many residents by walking down part of Main Street, shaking hands and posing for selfies.