Communities across the Beaufort Delta are celebrating Inuvialuit Day on Saturday, marking 37 years since the signing of the Inuvialuit Final Agreement in 1984 and the establishment of the Inuvialuit Settlement Region (ISR) in the NWT.
In Paulatuk, community members have a little bit extra to celebrate this year: the 25th anniversary of the creation of the Tuktut Nogait National Park.
Tuktut Nogait came into existence in 1996 after an establishment agreement was signed between Parks Canada, the GNWT, and four Inuvialuit organizations – the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation, Inuvialuit Game Council, Paulatuk Community Corporation, and the Paulatuk Hunters and Trappers Committee.
Site manager Stephanie Yuill described the park as one of the country’s “most beautiful and least visited parks.”
“We’re 170 kilometers north of the Arctic Circle,” she said, “so to get here, you have to fly to Yellowknife, fly to Inuvik, fly to Paulatuk, and then either walk, boat or quad into the park boundary…so it’s not a cheap journey, and it’s not a short journey.
“For those who do dare make that kind of adventure, it’s incredibly worth it. It’s a reward for the strong-hearted, and for the people who appreciate the beauty and people who appreciate serenity and quiet, but also really appreciate the drama of waterfalls and the drama of these incredible river valleys that have been like etched out over thousands of years.”
The Park – which encompasses 18,890 square kilometres – was closed last year due to the Covid-19 pandemic and will remain closed this summer.
It was created to protect the Bluenose-West caribou herd; Tuktut Nogait means “young caribou” in Inuvialuktun.
‘The people who know the land the best’
Lawrence Ruben is the chair of the Paulatuk Community Corporation and the director of the local Hunters and Trappers Committee.
He said protecting the caribou is of the utmost urgence to the Inuvialuit community, where it is a key source of food and culture.
“Within Canada and within the NWT, protection of the herds at this time is quite a priority,” he said. “In every region – the Sahtu, the Yellowknife area, Nunavut, the ISR – we all have our regions and herds to protect.
“We make every effort to protect and conserve our Bluenose caribou herd, but…Canada-wide, compliance on management plans has to be adhered to ensure protection of all herds, not only in the region you’re stationed in.”
The Bluenose-West herd has stabilized at about 20,000 caribou within the past decade. Inuvialuit hunting and harvesting rights are protected within the park.
Ensuring management of the park and its wildlife remain Indigenous led is important to the community as well, Ruben continued.
“If you understand the relationship between Canada and Indigenous groups, it has been quite scarred in the past,” Ruben said. “We’re, at this point, trying to…turn a new leaf and create better relationships with government.
“It doesn’t happen very much in other areas of Canada where Indigenous groups have total control in regard to setting conditions in their areas of concern.”
Yuill added: “Because the people know their backyard better than anyone else, they know what needs to protect it. They know the rhythms of the land. They know the rhythms of the season.
“The people who know the land the best, know what is needed.”
A number of celebrations to ring in the Park’s quarter-centennial have taken place, including a wildlife scavenger hunt, a commemorative bingo night, and a community dinner for those who have helped make the Park what it is today.
A time capsule is also being created. Community members are invited to submit letters, photos, postcards, or other items for people to see when it’s opened in another 25 years.
The community “sure loves their Park, which is amazing,” Yuill said.
“We want the community to know that we love them, and we really appreciate them.”