The federal government officially endorsed the establishment of Thaidene Nëné National Park Reserve in the 2019 budget on Tuesday.
Ottawa's announcement means both the Łutselk’e Dene First Nation and Parks Canada are on board. A territorial government committee still needs to consult the public on draft legislation that creates the park.
While there is more work to be done – changes to the National Parks Act must be passed by the federal House and Senate – things have progressed quickly over the past few months.
On February 18, Łutselk’e Dene members voted 88 percent in favour of establishing in the park.
Thaidene Nëné was first proposed 50 years ago, but has taken much longer than expected to open.
In full: The federal government's 2019 budget
In August, Parks Canada’s Protected Areas Establishment Branch told Cabin Radio reasons for the delay include consultation agreements with the Akaitcho, Tłı̨chǫ, and Métis peoples that must be fulfilled, alongside outstanding land claims.
Land transfer negotiations following devolution in 2014 further complicated the process.
"We've been protecting Thaidene Nëné using our law for 10 years now," said Steven Nitah, the Łutselk’e Dene First Nation's negotiator.
"Canada agreed to use their laws to protect part of Thaidene Nëné. They’re doing what they agreed to do. Now it’s up to the GNWT to create their law."
The Łutselk’e Dene have determined all 26,376 square kilometres of Thaidene Nëné will be a protected area under their laws.
Within that area, 14,305 sq km will make up the new national park reserve, co-created and co-managed by the First Nation and Parks Canada.
An adjoining 12,071 sq km will become a territorial protected area, which the Łutselk’e Dene will manage with the territorial government.
The Government of the Northwest Territories’ Protected Areas Act, or Bill 38, passed its second reading in the Legislative Assembly on February 26.
The territory's standing committee on economic development and environment now has 120 days, under the NWT's legislative process, to consult the public on the document and report back
"I hope that they've taken to heart the fact that the legislation has been co-produced, co-developed, and co-drafted with Indigenous governments, and that they don't need to take a full 120 days to get public input and consultation on this," Nitah said.
"It's essential that they get that done for Thaidene Nëné to become a reality."
In the territorial government's 2016-2019 mandate document, "establish Thaidene Nëné Park" is listed as one of the priorities.
Nitah hopes the territory's bill will be brought to the assembly in May.
"The quicker that it becomes law, the quicker we could use that to create Thaidene Nëné territorial protected areas," he said, "and the quicker we can start developing regulations.
"Regulations are what creates Thaidene Nëné – the law itself gives it the protected area status, but the regulations describe what type of protected area it's going to be."
Budget 2019 highlights
The 2019 budget gives $18 million over three years to the territorial government for the proposed Taltson hydroelectricity expansion, and an additional $400 million over eight years in allocations from the National Trade Corridors Fund to Arctic and northern regions.
Other highlights from the budget that will directly impact the NWT include:
- $15 million for a new a Northern Isolated Community Initiatives Fund, which will support local and Indigenous food production;
- $75 million for existing Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency (CanNor) economic development programs;
- $5 million for a jobs and tourism strategy (also through CanNor);
- money to clean up contaminated mine sites; and
- money to bring high speed internet to rural and northern communities.
Additionally, the budget proposes "$13 million over five years for the delivery of culturally appropriate and community developed curricula to enhance access to and success in higher education for Indigenous and northern students,” said Michael McLeod, the NWT’s member of parliament, in a statement.
The territory's Dechinta Centre for Research and Learning will directly benefit from that fund.