After nearly three decades of no national park preserve being established under the Sahtu Dene Metis Land Agreement, Norman Yakeleya is calling on the Government of the Northwest Territories to take action.
During negotiations of the agreement, which was ratified in 1993 and came into effect in 1994, Yakeleya was involved in establishing Chapter 17.3 which specifies that the federal and territorial governments create a park along the Canol Heritage Trail called the D’oi Toh National Park.
The area had been used by the United States government as part of the the Second World War effort however when the conflicted ended, piles of junk were left behind on the land.
Now in 2022, the former Dene National chief and former Sahtu MLA as well as frequent user of the Canol Trail is saying it is long past time for the lingering mess to be cleaned up and for the GNWT to move forward with its commitment to establish the park.
He said the main obstacle of it going ahead remains the transfer of jurisdictional power from the federal to the territorial government.
“The transfer of lands is the issue and the stumbling block,” Yakeleya said in a recent interview.
“What conditions will it take for the GNWT to say okay, let’s start the transfer of lands?
“We have to keep pressure on the federal government and say that we’re not taking back the land with the amount of garbage on there now. We want it the way it was before the military moved in there with lands and roads.”
The amount of waste includes 176 vehicles, 5000 empty 45-gallon barrels, leftover fuel in fuel tanks, batteries, hazardous waste, asbestos, pipeline material on the ground, and bridges no longer used, he said..
Among the more troubling items of waste include telephone wiring “where animals have been caught up and died a horrible death,” Yakeleya said.
Matthew Gutsch, media spokesperson with Crown and Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada referred all questions to the GNWT Department of Executive and Indigenous Affairs.
However one federal source told News North that the department is waiting for the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to review a federal reclamation report to move forward with land transfer arrangements.
”The holdup is that we want to transfer the land to the territorial government and there is a bit of a back and forth there,” said the person. “They’re reviewing a report that we have done on reclamation.
“Our expectation is (the GNWT) is going to come back with a couple of key issues that they think need to be resolved before the land gets transferred. Once the land is transferred, then the GNWT is obliged under the land claim to move towards creating a territorial park that would involve the Sahtu.”
NNSL Media provided questions to ENR on multiple occasions over the last month. Responses were still forthcoming Thursday afternoon.
Drew Williams, spokesperson for the Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment said the territorial government is cautious about taking ownership before a thorough cleanup of the area by the Government of Canada is satisfactory.
“An agreement remains in place between the GNWT and the federal government and there is an agreement for it to become an NWT park,” he said. “But we as the GNWT have been maintaining the line that the federal government has to clean it up to a certain level before we take ownership of it.”
Yakeleya said that the park, when established, will have a large mixture of significance for users with untouched wilderness preserved for cultural interest by descendants of the Sahtu mountain Dene to visitors wanting to enjoy recreational activity to history buffs who might wanting to experience American and Canadian military outposts and vehicles.
Most important is that it will be properly kept for future generations to enjoy, he said.
“It’s going to be a park and (reflecting the idea of) the ‘Land Before Time’ where families can come and enjoy and be educated and it would be operated by the Sahtu beneficiaries,” he said.
“We really have to work to give hope to a lot of our young people so that they can have the opportunity to operate, manage, and run everything with that park. It’s the transfer of lands that is the stumbling block.”
When completed it would be the largest territorial park in the Northwest Territories, Yakeleya added.
“It’s going to be one of the most fun places to be but we’ve got to get over this hurdle of the transfer of lands from the last 29 years,” he said.