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YouTuber who built backwoods Yukon cabin is an illegal squatter, gov't says

Arabnews24.ca:Monday 21 March 2022 03:48 PM: Pausing on a snowmobile ride up the frozen river, Matty Clarke takes a moment to share some inspirational thoughts with his YouTube fans. 

"Even though this might seem far-fetched, to go up on the Yukon River last minute before winter, build a cabin and live here and enjoy it — you can do it. You really can," he says, in the online video.

He doesn't mention that you can also then find yourself in court.

According to the Yukon government, Clarke — whose videos on his "Skote outdoors" Youtube channel chronicle his 2020 journey into the backwoods near Dawson City, Yukon, to clear land and build himself a log cabin home — has set himself up illegally, on public land.

"Mr. Clarke has been notified by Yukon government officials that his occupation of the Site is unlawful and that he must vacate, remove all structures and personal property, and remediate the Site," reads a petition filed to the Yukon Supreme Court last week by the territorial government.  

"Mr Clarke has not provided evidence of any authority to occupy the Site."

The government is asking for a court order to force Clarke to vacate the half-hectare site, remove everything and "reclaim the Site to the condition it was in prior to its occupation."

The site is near Ensley Creek, about 25 kilometres up the Yukon River from Dawson City. According to the Yukon government, it's public land and within the traditional territory of the Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in.  

According to court documents, there are two other cabins within 850 metres from Clarke's. Both of those are also considered unlawful, and the Yukon government has filed similar court petitions this month to force the occupants — Simon Tourigny and Chloe Sergerie — to also vacate the area and remove their cabins.

CBC News has attempted to reach Tourigny, Sergerie and Clarke by email but none have responded.

Yukon government officials say Tourigny's cabin was built several years ago, whereas Clarke allegedly arrived in the area in 2020. Clarke later claimed in an email to government officials that he didn't know Tourigny before arriving at Ensley Creek.

CBC News has asked the Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in about the alleged squatters last fall and again this month, but the First Nation has declined comment.

Clarke's series of YouTube videos — submitted with the government's court petition, along with Instagram posts — appear to tell the story of his arrival in Dawson City to stake a mining claim, and then his trip upriver to find the claim and choose a spot to build his home.

The series of YouTube videos show Clarke clearing the land and harvesting the logs that he uses to build his cabin. (Skote outdoors/YouTube)

The videos do not show any other cabins nearby, and Clarke makes no mention of neighbours. Rather, the videos — titled "Alone in the Yukon" — seem to depict Clarke as a solitary and self-reliant figure, carving a home out of the lonely and pristine wilderness like a modern-day Dick Proenneke.

He's shown clearing land with a chainsaw, and living in a tent while he harvests the logs that will become his cabin.   

"Dreams come true, man. Dreams come true every day, boys — you just gotta make them come true," he says in , as he enjoys a smoke break before a half-built wall.

"Every day when I'm working on this and touching it ... touching a dream. Creating a dream, with these hands."

'Creating a dream, with these hands,' says Clarke in one of his online videos. (Skote outdoors/YouTube)

According to the Yukon government, Clarke did not have a valid placer claim when he started building his cabin in September 2020. He applied for a placer claim months later, but it was denied in part because authorities found inconsistencies in the staking date claimed by Clarke.

The court petition also says that a valid placer claim would not make the cabin legal. It also says that as of September 2021, no actual mining work had been done there.

"Even if Mr. Clarke had honestly and properly staked the Claim, doing so did not give Mr. Clarke authority under the [Placer Mining Act] or any other Yukon legislation to construct a cabin at the Site for his permanent residence," the court  petition states.

Site has 'high heritage potential' 

Government resource officers found the cabin in January 2021. Officers had been doing regular inspections in the Ensley Creek area for several years, keeping tabs on Tourigny's occupation.  

The officers reported that they found Clarke's five metre by six metre cabin, apparently inhabited, along with a snowmobile, generator, tools, building supplies, and trees that had been harvested "in the immediate vicinity of the cabin as building logs, saw logs, and fuel wood without a permit." 

"The cabin is on an area identified as having high heritage potential," the inspection report states, but does not explain.

Court documents say Clarke was given a hand-delivered letter in June 2021, asking that he provide evidence of his authority to occupy the site within 30 days. He did not.

More than a month later, though — past the deadline — he wrote an email to the government's lands manager claiming that the location of his cabin "off the claim was an honest error on my part."

In the first of his videos about building the cabin, Clarke leaves no mystery about where he's heading. The videos, along with Clarke's Instagram posts, have been included in the Yukon government's court petition. (Skote outdoors/YouTube)

He then tries to argue that "the cabin itself" is sufficient proof of his right to continue living there. He also says he would be homeless if forced to leave and that would affect his mental health. 

"This isn't just a cabin and this isn't just a file on your computer, this is my life and my home. I feel so connected with my house and my natural surroundings both emotionally and spiritually," he wrote to lands manager Brenda Sproule.

"I do not look at myself as a trespasser but a guardian or steward of the land."

He also suggest that he could buy the land so he could "create some income for myself via tourism."

Sproule responded to say that Clarke hadn't provided any evidence of his right to live there. Legal action will follow, she wrote.

"I acknowledge that this is a hardship for you, however the law clearly sets out the consequences of occupying territorial lands without authority," Sproule wrote to Clarke by email.

Meanwhile, Clarke continued to post videos to his Youtube channel into August, showing his life and home in the Yukon bush. 

Clarke continued to post videos about his life and cabin in the Yukon even after government officials threatened him with legal action. (Skote outdoors/YouTube)

"It's not all unicorns and rainbows out here. This is real life. And I had my own personal struggles, doing all this," he says in a video posted Aug. 15. He does not mention any dispute with the Yukon government.

Clarke responded to another email from Sproule last September saying he wouldn't be vacating the site as ordered.

"I will still be considering this cabin my legal dwelling," he wrote.

The government's petition has not yet been heard in court, and as of last week Clarke had not yet filed a response.

Officials are asking for a court order to force him to leave the site at Ensley Creek. They're also asking for an injunction prohibiting Clarke from occupying any other territorial lands "without first obtaining lawful authority." 

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