Canada Makes Progress on Vast New Northern Park

LUTSEL K'E, Canada, October 16, 2006 (ENS) - Canadian officials on Friday announced an agreement with the Lutsel K'e Dene First Nation to advance a long-running effort to create a massive new national park in far northern Canada. The new park would protect part of North America's deepest lake and preserve a spectacular area where the landscape dramatically shifts from boreal forest to tundra.

The agreement focuses on an area covering 33,525 square kilometers, including nearly 4,000 square kilometers of Great Slave Lake.

"Canada has a tremendous opportunity and obligation to advance the protection of its special wilderness and natural areas, and nowhere is the opportunity more real than in northern Canada," said Canada's Environment Minister Rona Ambrose. "Canadians have a special love for and spiritual connection to national parks, places that are special, places where the beauty of nature is for all to behold."

Friday's signing of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) jumpstarts work with the Lutsel K'e Dene First Nation and other interests to develop a feasibility study and to negotiate the model for how the Dene will fully participate in all aspects of park operations and management.


Great Slave Lake is the tenth largest lake in the world and has long been a target for protection by conservationists. (Photo courtesy Environment Canada)

The area on the East Arm of Great Slave Lake, home to moose, wolves and grizzly bears, was first identified for protection as a national park in 1970.

The effort has taken more than three decades in part because of disputed land claims and because the Dene feared losing their traditional hunting rights.

The Dene say their ancestors first came to the region some 7,000 years ago and are keen to see the protected area named "Thaydene Nene National Park," which means "land of the ancestors."

"The protection of Thaydene Nene is critical to the continued integrity of not only this pristine and beautiful natural landscape, but also to the well-being of the Akaitcho Dene people who have thrived on this land since time immemorial," said Lutsel K'e Dene Chief Adeline Jonasson. "The signing of this MOU is a significant step forward towards the conservation of our sacred places and cultural heritage. We anticipate working together with Parks Canada in our new partnership."

Conservation groups hailed the decision and praised Ambrose for her committed to following up on protection of a number of other areas put forth by Dene communities in the MacKenzie River Valley.

"The Lutsel K'e Dene First Nation are taking the lead to secure the ecological and cultural values of their territories for future generations," said Larry Innes, acting executive director of the Canadian Boreal Initiative (CBI). "We've been a proud supporter of their work,

CBI and others also called on the Canadian government to protect areas proposed by the tribe and urged the mining industry to stop staking claims in these areas.

"Until now, staking has been happening, despite written objections from the people who live there, and despite federal assurances that they would be given 'space to negotiate,'" said Monte Hummel of WWF-Canada.

The Northwest Territory is "rapidly losing conservation options, in the face of extensive oil and gas leases and mineral staking," added Stephen Kakfwi, former premier of the Northwest Territory now special advisor to WWF-Canada and the CBI. "We need a more balanced approach."