The Thaidene Nene National Park Reserve has long been in the works as Canada’s newest national park, and Friday marked the finalization of a series of agreements between Parks Canada and Akaitcho Territory First Nations.
The Yellowknives Dene First Nation (YKDFN) hosted an official signing ceremony at the Chief Drygeese Conference Centre in Dettah. Among those present for the event were Ndilo Chief Ernest Betsina, Dettah Chief Ed Sangris, NWT MP Michael McLeod.
Environment and Climate Change Canada Minister Jonathan Wilkinson, also minister responsible for Parks Canada, participated virtually from Vancouver.
Thaidene Nene National Park Reserve, located on the East Arm of Great Slave Lake, comprises pristine wilderness, largely made up of Boreal forest that transitions into tundra. It is Canada’s 47th national park.
The tract of land represents a culturally significant place for Dene people, who have hunted, trapped and fished in the area for generations.
A Parks Canada news release stated that the signed agreement with YKDFN is the last thing needed to move ahead with the park reserve. Parks Canada reached agreements in 2019 with the Lutsel K’e Dene First Nation and the Deninu K’ue First Nation – the other two parties under the Akaitcho First Nations umbrella.
Similar understandings were reached with Government of the Northwest Territories and the Northwest Territories Metis Nation last year.
The establishment agreement will assure the YKDFN of a role on the regional management board for Thaidene Nene National Park Reserve, along with other Indigenous communities who have signed. The pact emphasizes how traditional knowledge will be incorporated into the management of the park reserve, commits to training and employment for band members and explains opportunities for future contracting.
The park reserve is about 14,305 square kilometres and includes the Artillery Lake area, a portion of East Arm’s Christie Bay, part of Eileen and Whitefish lakes, the Lockhart River, most of Snowdrift River, Tyrell Falls, Reliance, Fort Reliance, and numerous other bays like Maufelly, Charlton and Whitebread.
Betsina said the park’s creation provides a way for First Nations to participate in the management of the area and have more of a structured entity that protects the interests of Indigenous people who have had cultural ties to the land for generations.
“The establishment of the national park in the Akaitcho territory demonstrates our ability to plan ahead for our future generations as well as the generations of all Canadians,” Betsina said. “It is hoped that the people that who visit this park respect our treaty rights, the water, the forests and the animals while they learn about our traditions and culture.”
Sangris said the creation of the park represents a workable partnership with the Government of Canada and other First Nations within the Akaitcho Territory that will allow Indigenous people to retain traditional practices.
“The establishment of this park recognizes the treaty rights to fish, hunt and trap while protecting our traditional way of life,” Sangris said. “Our culture is one that is attached to the land, to the water, to fish and to the animals. The park represents the will of the Creator and our elders, for our people to continue to be the guardians of the land and water as we welcome visitors into our region and the park.”
Sangris said he’s hopeful that the signing of the agreement represents a renewed effort between the Dene and the federal government to build a positive and respectful relationship.
“We pray that we will be able to continue to work to build a strong nation-to-nation relationship with the Government of Canada based on mutual respect, and trust with other issues facing our people in our nation as we have done with Parks Canada.”
McLeod said he expects increased interest among tourists and he wants the Government of Canada to help Indigenous people see economic benefits.
“As you know, Yellowknife and the portion of Great Slave Lake which crosses Chief Drygeese Territory will be high traffic routing for visitors to Thaidene National Park Reserve,” McLeod said. “With this in mind, the government will support your wish to work with you as partners to maximize tourism benefits with involvement of the Yellowknives tourism initiative and with the assessing interpretive and varying activities.”
Wilkinson said the event is important because it allows for the Government of Canada to continue its work on protecting and conserving land and recovering species at risk, while also advancing reconciliation with Indigenous people.
The federal government is providing $40 million towards infrastructure and operations for the national park reserve over the next 12 years. Thereafter, the federal government will provide $3.4 million every year for operations.