The federal government announced the expected boundaries of the new Thaidene Nene national park reserve on the East Arm of Great Slave last week, revealing a much smaller federal area than negotiated prior to devolution.
Originally contemplated at over 33,000 square-km, the new federal park will be just 14,000 square-km and surrounded by approximately 12,000 square-km of territorial parks and protected area for caribou.
The shrunken federal jurisdiction was a target for territorial negotiators, who entered into the process with Parks Canada and the involved Aboriginal governments last year following the federal transfer of powers over lands, water and resources to the NWT.
“Two instructions were given to me: Make sure you leave the smallest federal footprint possible…and make sure you use Northern tools to keep the other land under the control of the people of the Northwest Territories, and do everything we can to protect as much of the East Arm as possible,” said NWT Environment and Natural Resources Minister Michael Miltenberger.
Not only did the GNWT reduce federal control over the area by 57 per cent, it also knocked the total size of Thaidene Nene down to around 26,000 square-km in order to leave out certain areas with high mineral potential – primarily diamonds and uranium.
The areas that are to remain under NWT control will include both territorial parks and one area of caribou habitat protected under the Wildlife Act. While the parks will remain permanent fixtures, the caribou area will remain in place only as long as it is needed by caribou.
First Nations co-management
The creation of Thaidene Nene has been under discussion between Canada and the Lutsel K’e Dene First Nation (LKDFN) for over four decades. The two parties had agreed the First Nation would be able to co-manage the national park.
With Wednesday’s announcement, that relationship with the First Nation stands, marking the first time in Canada that an Aboriginal government is guaranteed a role in planning, managing and operating a federal park.
“It will not be your grandfather’s version of a national park,” Steven Nitah, lead negotiator on behalf the Lutsel K’e Dene First Nation, said of Thaidene Nene. “Lutsel K’e is going to work with both parties to manage Thaidene Nene the way we want to.”
Apart from giving First Nation control over the protected area, the creation of Thaidene Nene will not affect Aboriginal and treaty rights, including traditional land use activities like hunting, trapping and gathering.
“This isn’t a Wood Buffalo (National Park) kind a situation where rights are going to stop and all activities are going to stop in the park; we’re trying to do the exact opposite of that, actually,” said Merrell-Ann Phare, the GNWT’s chief negotiator for Thaidene Nene.
Furthermore, the “Northern lifestyles” of non-Aboriginal land-users will also be protected in Thaidene Nene, including the use of boats and floatplanes.
Concerns over size
Still, there are some concerned about the decrease in size of Thaidene Nene for possible mineral development. Dene elder Francois Paulette, who was involved originally on the file as an advisor to LKDFN during talks with Parks Canada, said the current proposal is a far cry from the original agreement with Canada.
“The elders that were involved in that wanted to have this set aside as a national park to be protected. This is quite different,” he said.
Paulette expressed skepticism that territorial laws, even following the necessary amendments, would offer the same level of protection as federal ones, and questioned the GNWT’s motivations in becoming involved on the file.
“It seems like your principle is to keep things small as a dime,” Paulette said.
Nitah said the move to exclude 7,500 square-km of land from the current proposed boundaries for mineral development was reluctantly accepted by the First Nation.
“This is a negotiating process, and it’s something that Lutsel K’e reluctantly agreed to,” he said. “At the end of the day, the government of the Northwest Territories is very dependent on industrial development, so we’ve agreed to this. Once consultation is done, we can reevaluate our role and get back to the GNWT with where we stand.”
Public meetings ended last week with stops in Fort Smith, Hay River and Fort Resolution.
The final details of the park will be presented to cabinet in the 18th Assembly.