Members of Lutsel K’e Dene First Nation (LKDFN) are one step closer to getting Thaidene Nëné National Park.
Last week, they authorized Chief and Council to hold a vote to approve the agreements between Lutsel K’e, the Government of Canada and the Government of the Northwest Territories.
“We believe that the most progressive relationship between Crown governments and Indigenous governments is the articulation of the spirit and intent into which we entered Treaty 8,” says Steven Nitah, LKDFN’s head negotiator. “We agreed to share the lands and resources, to manage them together and to benefit from them together.”
All eligible LKDFN members will be able to vote on February 18, with an advance poll on February 11. Assuming it results in support for the agreements, Nitah said the community will line up a signing ceremony with the other two parties.
For its part, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (ENR) is working to introduce draft legislation in the February-March session of the Legislative Assembly to allow for the creation of the park.
“Prior to the enactment of any legislation, the GNWT will ensure that its consultation obligations with Indigenous governments and organizations are fulfilled,” wrote ENR spokesperson Meagan Wohlberg in an email.
She added that the legislation is “designed to be flexible” as it would be the blueprint to establish other possible protection areas like Dinàgà Wek’èhodì (North Arm of Great Slave Lake) and Ts’ude niline Tu’eyeta (Ramparts wetlands in the Sahtu).
The park would protect about 33,500 square kilometres around the eastern arm of Great Slake Lake.
In the late 1960s, the Government of Canada proposed a protection area in that region, but it was refused by Lutsel K’e at the time.
“Canada was right in the midst of their assimilation policy,” says Nitah. “National parks were one of the tools they used to exercise that policy… They’d force Indigenous people off their territory, burn their homes and they weren’t allowed back.”
Now 50 years later, Nitah says the relationship has changed.
While the vote and territorial legislation are still technically unknowns, if all goes according to plan the park could be established as soon as July.
Nitah wants to see it done by August “at the latest.”
Asked if he was pleased the process is coming to and end, he said, “It’s towards the end of negotiations but the beginning of a new relationship.”