Although it took over a decade to reach an agreement, Dettah Chief Edward Sangris says he is happy his members can now benefit from the Thaidene Nëné National Park Reserve.
“We were the last group to sign on, we had some concerns and we hashed those out,” Sangris explains.
The Yellowknives Dene First Nation (YKDFN) officially signed a partnership agreement with Parks Canada for Thaidene Nëné National Park Reserve on Friday morning at the Chief Drygeese Centre.
Ndilǫ Chief Ernest Betsina and Sangris signed on behalf of the YKDFN. Jonathan Wilkinson, the minister responsible for Parks Canada, signed his part from afar, but Michael McLeod, NWT MP, was in attendance.
A long time coming
The agreement gives the YKDFN a role on the Regional Management Board for Thaidene Nëné National Park Reserve. It will also allow the YKDFN to incorporate traditional knowledge in the management of the park and allow opportunities for future contracting, as well as developing a tourism strategy.
The agreement completes negotiations between Parks Canada and two other Akaitcho Dene First Nations. In August 2019, the Łutsël K’é Dene First Nation and the Deninu K’ue First Nation signed agreements with the Government of Canada and Parks Canada.
YKDFN did not sign due to concerns there was a lack of information on how the agreement would affect hunting, fishing and trapping.
“It took us a while to sign just to ensure that some of the things that were there wouldn’t affect our way of life in the park,” Sangris says.
However, after further discussions, the community’s Elders and members of the negotiating team felt confident in signing.
Betsina says now that this is established, YKDFN members can benefit from the agreement.
“This national park is for their use,” he explains, “they can live their lifestyle within the park.”
Steven Nitah, a negotiator for Łutsël K’e Dene First Nation who participated in the negotiations with Parks Canada, says there will be a lot of future coordination between the two governments.
“I’m happy to hear the [YKDFN] are officially on board and look forward to working with them,” he says.
The negotiations, which have been ongoing since the 2000’s, had some tense moments, Sangris recalls.
“There was some moments where we wanted to say ‘forget it,’ ” he says, “but we kept at it and finally everybody decided to make it happen.”
McLeod says he is aware there were challenges in the negotiations, but in the end the federal government ensured the YKDFN had its concerns addressed.
“Initially the negotiations didn’t go well, it was an approach that wasn’t well received by the communities,” he says. “I’m glad that the government was able to make changes in their approach.”
Thaidene Nëné National Park Reserve
Thaidene Nëné is approximately 14,305 square kilometres, encompassing the Artillery Lake area, a portion of East Arm’s Christie Bay, portions of Eileen and Whitefish lakes, the Lockhart River, most of the Snowdrift River, Tyrell Falls, Reliance, Fort Reliance, and bays such as Maufelly, Charlton, and Wildbread.
One of the biggest opportunities the agreement provides the YKDFN is the creation of jobs in the tourism sector.
A press release says the federal government will help the YKDFN develop a tourism and boat access route aimed at stimulating economic activity for its membership. It also says in the park’s first 12 years, the Government of Canada will provide $40 million for infrastructure and operations. The government will continue investing $3.4 million each year following.
“The benefit is that people are going to be employed,” Sangris says of the agreement, “it’s not only for us, its for our future generations.”
Thaidene Nëné will be a national park reserve until land claim agreements are reached with the Akaitcho Dene First Nations and the Northwest Territory Métis Nation, the release says. The North Slave Métis Alliance also asserts rights in the area.