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First Nation to help manage park reserve

Taken from The Globe and Mail, Thursday, July 30, 2015 (link to article), by Gloria Galloway

Ottawa is entering into an unprecedented agreement with a First Nation and the Northwest Territories to create a new national park reserve that they will co-manage.

The federal government announced at a ceremony in the Lutsel K’e Dene First Nation on Wednesday that it has agreed to the boundaries of a 14,000-square-kilometre swath of boreal forest and tundra on the eastern end of Great Slave Lake that will, in a year or two, become the Thaidene Nené National Park Reserve.

The co-management agreement will allow the Dene to preserve and share their cultural heritage while protecting a vast area of the country’s northern wilderness.

The finalization of the boundary comes after eight years of negotiation between the federal government and the First Nation, which was intent on having a say in how its traditional lands are managed. The national park reserve will abut a territorial park of just over 12,000 square kilometres and together they will form a massive protected area where caribou, moose, wolves and bears can range unimpeded by industrial development.

The reserve will encompass the last distinct natural region that Parks Canada has been trying to protect in the Northwest Territories. It includes the Kahochella and Douglas Peninsulas of Great Slave Lake’s east arm, the Lockhart River’s canyons and Christie Bay, which is the deepest fresh water body in North America.

“This is the result of years of hard work and an unprecedented level of co-operation and co-ordination between the federal, territorial, and aboriginal governments,” Leona Aglukkaq, the federal Environment Minister, said in a statement. “With today’s announcement our Government has taken a huge step to protect an exceptional part of local aboriginal culture as well as an outstanding example of wilderness for generations of Canadians.”

Legislation must be passed in the House of Commons to make the park’s creation official.

The idea for a national park in the Thaidene Nené region was first suggested more than 40 years ago, and the boundary agreement puts the government one step closer to finalizing what is now the oldest national park proposal in the country that has yet to be realized.

The delay was largely caused by protests by the Dene, who refused to be part of the project after the federal government told them it had decided to create a park on their land without their input or involvement.

What has resulted from the years of debate is an agreement that will promote the Dene use of the land and well as their culture, their language and their world view, said Steven Nitah, who was the chief negotiator for the First Nation. In the end, the Dene raised their own funds to assist with the park’s creation.

The Thaidene Nene will be the most accessible northern national park in Canada because of its proximity to Yellowknife, and the Dene are eager to receive visitors, Mr. Nitah said. The park will have places for hiking, boating and white-water canoeing.

“We will work with our people to tell the story of Thaidene Nené, the story of the Lutsel K’e Dene, and at the same time, we know that aboriginal tourism is a major industry that is growing,” he said. “We know that when visitors come to a place like Thaidene Nené, they will see the scenic beauty of the place, the peaceful nature and the live energy and spirit and the soul. What they will remember is their interaction with the indigenous people.”

The national park reserve will feature historic villages and gathering sites of the Lutsel K’e as well as a historic fort at Reliance and the traditional hunting and fishing areas of the First Nation and the local Métis. It will create both seasonal and year-round employment for the Dene.

Aboriginal people will be allowed to hunt in the national park, and all Canadians with the proper licences will be able to hunt in the sections run by the Northwest Territories.

The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society has been working with the Dene to help with the park’s creation. “We are very pleased with the proposal for a large-core national park reserve within Thaidene Nené,” said Éric Hébert-Daly, the organization’s national executive director. “The national park reserve will anchor the conservation of Thaidene Nené and support growth of a sustainable local conservation economy.”