The NWT’s newest national park reserve, Thaidene Nene, has had a busy year despite the pandemic putting a damper on the number of visitors this summer.
Iris Catholique, Thaidene Nene’s manager, says they have been busy ever since the signing ceremony on August 21, 2019.
“Even though things may have slowed down for the rest of the world, for our Thaidene Nene team it’s still going full throttle, we’re still going full speed. There’s always something to be done, there’s always a task that needs to be done, there’s always planning, organizing, coming up with rules and regulations. That’s not just done overnight,” said Catholique.
“We’ve hired a whole whack of new staff. I’ve got four full time Ni Hat’ni monitors and also I’ve got a Ni Hat’ni coordinator. I’ve got a Thaidene Nene tourism coordinator. We’re looking at hiring a few more folks, one for communication and then I know that Parks [Canada] and ENR are looking to staff some people here to work with us,” said Catholique.
Laani Uunila, Thiadene Nene’s implementation manager, says she thinks the first year has gone “pretty well.”
“Obviously it’s been a bit of a strange year in the last couple months, but I think we’ve made some good progress and obviously getting a national park reserve up and running takes a little bit of time.”
During the first year, Uunila says the park accomplished many things including developing safety information, setting up a website, and creating the first online fishing permit system for Parks Canada, but she says the biggest accomplishment was building a stronger relationship with the Łutsël K’é Dene First Nation (LDKFN) and Northwest Territories Métis Nation (NWTMN).
“We have some good exchanges, bouncing back and forth, and we can build great products,” said Uunila. “I think they’ve seen that we’re working hard and are dedicated to working together and getting the park operational. So there’s a fair degree of trust with my counterparts that I work with on a daily, if not daily at least weekly basis.”
Uunila says just under 100 visitors have registered to visit this summer, but the impact on Łutsël K’é was not as big as they were hoping for in the first year.
“Given the impacts of [Covid-19] with this season … the main driver for tourism hasn’t materialized this year just because travel has been restricted. But I think the anticipation is still there, that this will become a good tourism draw and an ability to kind of diversify the economy a bit,” said Uunila.
Frontier Fishing Lodge to be winterized
The next task on Uunila’s list is getting the Operational Management Board together to start planning what they see for the future of the park.
“We’ve been working with our Operational Management Board partners, the [Łutsël K’é] First Nation and the NWTMN, but in terms of getting the board members sitting in a meeting room and working together on projects, we haven’t quite got there yet,” said Uunila.
Catholique’s next goal is to set up online training for the Ni Hat’ni Dene monitors during fall freeze up when things will start to slow down.
“I’m trying to think of ways where I can capture some of these stories from the Elders and build that into an interpretive training program for my Ni Hat’ni monitors. So when they come across people, they’re telling the story of what Łutsël K’é wants to be told, what our history is and what we want to share with the world,” said Catholique.
She also hopes to finish winterizing the Frontier Fishing Lodge by September.
“They’re winterizing some of the units as well as the kitchen and other areas so they could have running water in the winter and then power in the winter.”
In the near future, Uunila and Catholique also want to establish a Parks Canada team and an official Thaidene Nene office in Łutsël K’é.
“One of the big vision goals is we want to have the infrastructure in the community for our own Thaidene Nene office complex and it could be built in such a way where we can have a tourism-visitor center in there with a cultural component, interpretive tours,” said Catholique.
Uunila says if residents of the NWT have any suggestions for the park to get in touch.
“Whether it’s long-term visitors in the area, sharing their stories and pictures, to help them develop trip planners and other safety guidance, we definitely welcome all contributions and suggestions,” said Uunila.
“We’d like the world to know that Thaidene Nene is here and we want to share our beautiful territory with the world,” said Catholique.