After close to two decades, a final agreement on the proposed Thaidene Nene National Park Reserve is set to be signed in Lutselk’e, N.W.T., on July 25, but the Yellowknives Dene First Nation chief still has questions.
After close to two decades, a final agreement on the proposed Thaidene Nene National Park Reserve is set to be signed in Lutselk’e, N.W.T., on July 25, but not everyone is fully on board.
The proposed park, 26,376 square kilometres of land northeast of Lutselk’e, is touted as what would be the most progressive protected area in Canada. Its core would be a national park, with a territorially protected area surrounding that.
On Thursday, on the final day of the Akaitcho Assembly in Lutselk’e, the Yellowknives Dene First Nation (YKDFN) brought up issues they have with the current plan.
“We need to know more about the park,” Detah Chief Edward Sangris told CBC following the meeting.
Sangris said one of his First Nation’s main concerns is that the park might impact his people’s treaty rights to hunt, trap and fish.
“If you can’t do that in a park then that will be impeaching on our treaty rights,” he said. “That’s what our elders were concerned about.”
In an email to CBC, Parks Canada representative Natalie Fay wrote: “Indigenous rights will continue to be exercised and protected, including the rights to harvest (hunting, trapping and fishing). Treaty 8 rights will also continue to be protected within the national park reserve.”
Sangris said his First Nation is also concerned about whether the park could encroach on YKDFN land.
He claimed there wasn’t enough consultation between the Lutselk’e Dene First Nation and the other Akaitcho First Nations before Lutselk’e voted in February to create the park.
Opposed since the start
“I’m really not sure what the real concern is about it,” said Archie Catholique, who has been on the advisory committee negotiating Thaidene Nene since 2000, and said the YKDFN has been in opposition of the park since the start.
Catholique said Lutselk’e invited the YKDFN to consultations on the park, but on some occasions, they refused to come.
Sangris said Lutselk’e did make presentations to YKDFN chiefs and council, along with their elders, around a year ago.
However, he said that the elders weren’t comfortable when they heard about the plan for the Thaidene Nene park and wanted more information, something his staff got.
Even so, Sangris said there should have been additional meetings chief-to-chief.
“We told [Lutselk’e Dene First Nation], unless something changes, we’re not going to be part of the agreement,” he said.
‘We would back them 100%’
Lutselk’e Chief Darryl Marlowe said this is his community’s initiative and the YKDFN communities should “get on board.”
“We don’t go into anyone else’s backyard and dictate how decisions are being made,” he told CBC.
“We would back them 100 per cent on whatever they want to accomplish, and whatever goals they set … we would like the same respect.”
The contention didn’t come as a surprise to Marlowe; but with less than two weeks before the final agreement is set to be signed, it’s unclear whether things will turn around.
The two First Nations agreed to meet in the next week or so to discuss YKDFN’s concerns. Both have different ideas of how those talks will go.
“It seems like everyone’s confident the issues will be resolved before the July 25 signing ceremony,” a hopeful Marlowe told CBC.
Meanwhile, when asked if he anticipates YKDFN will be signing the agreement, Sangris said he doesn’t think their issues can be fixed in such a short timeframe.
He’d like to see YKDFN included in a ratification vote for the Thaidene Nene park.
If the Yellowknives Dene First Nation does not sign on to the final agreement, it’s not clear what impact that will have on the signing ceremony or the creation of Thaidene Nene.