Monday, January 10, 2011

Thaydene Nene (East Arm National Park)

By:  Tom

One of the key reasons that I want to paddle in the East Arm of the Great Slave Lake is the fact that the area is in the process of being turned into a national park.  The park will be called Thaydene Nene (sometime referred to as "Thaidene Nene"), which translates to "Land of the Ancestors."

The beauty of the area has been evident.  An article on the park quotes British explorer George Back:

The country to the left became gradually less rugged, subsiding into round-backed hills, whose sloping sides were covered with wood; the uniformity being agreeably broken by two light columns of smoke issuing at separate points, most likely from the fires of straggling hunters.

But the scenery to the right increased in grandeur and boldness, and never, either in Alp or Apennine, had I seen such a picture of such rugged wildness. Rising to the perpendicular height of upwards of twelve hundred feet, the rocks were rent, as if by some violent convulsion, into deep chasms and ragged fissures, inaccessible to the nimblest animal. A few withered pines, grey with age, jutted their shrivelled arms from the extreme edge of the abyss: on one of which a majestic fishing eagle was seated, and then, unscared by our cries, reigned in solitary state, the monarch of the rocky wilderness.

 Environment Canada outlined some of the resources that a park would protect:
  • Noteworthy features in the area include the spectacular Pethei, Kahochella and Douglas Peninsulas, the Lockhart River canyons, Tyrell Falls, and Christie Bay, the deepest water in North America, and an abrupt transition from a boreal forest to a tundra environment.
  • It is also an important wintering area for several herds of barren-ground caribou, and supports viable populations of native species such as wolf, moose, wolverine, great-horned owl, American marten, and other fur-bearers.
  • Important cultural features found in the 'area of interest' include the traditional hunting and fishing areas of the Lutsel K'e Dene First Nation, the remnants of historic Fort Reliance, and Pike's Portage linking Great Slave and Artillery Lake.
If you refer to the map above, our trip as currently planned will start at the island at the southwest tip of the highlighted area.  From there, we will be paddling in the general direction of Reliance and then looping back to our pick-up stop.  We will see much of the GSL portion of Thaidene Nene.

The process of establishing a national park has been an extended one.  This is to be expected given that a park involves land and land involves multiple interests with claims on the land.  The efforts to  establish a park have proceeded in fits and starts over the past half-century.  Those efforts are summarized here.

The process has accelerated in recent years.   In 2007 the Canadian government withdrew about 33,000 square kilometers of land, shown on the map above as the larger area shaded area, for consideration for possible inclusion in the park.  This withdrawal included a smaller area that was the subject of an earlier withdrawal, which is also shown on the map.   The land is protected against development--e.g., mining--for the five-year term of the withdrawal.

The following summary of recent developments gives some idea of the complicated negotiations:

     1.   The Akaitcho Dene First Nations (of which the Lutsel K'e Dene First Nation is one), Canada, and the Government of the Northwest Territories (GNWT) agreed to create a side table to the Akaitcho treaty negotiation process to discuss provisions for a new protected area in Thaidene Nene. The Parties committed to create this side table in 2009-10 when their negotiators initialled the Akaitcho Process workplan for 2009-10.

     2.   In order to kickstart the side table, the LKDFN and Parks Canada spent the better part of 2009 developing a draft Thaidene Nene Framework Agreement that would guide side table discussions. The GNWT was requested to participate in the development of this framework agreement, but it declined.

     3.   The LKDFN agreed in principle to a draft framework agreement in May 2009, after a public membership meeting. Soon after, Parks Canada indicated that they were comfortable with the wording of the draft.

     4.   On April 7, 2010, the LKDFN and Canada signed the Thaidene Nene Framework Agreement in Calgary. This agreement commits the parties to a Thaidene Nene Establishment Process, working together towards the execution of a Thaidene Nene Establishment Agreement, hopefully within a period of two years. The Establishment Agreement will include provisions for Thaidene Nene boundaries, management, operations, infrastructure, and First Nation participation.

     5.   With the signing of the Thaidene Nene Framework Agreement, Canada and the LKDFN officially recognized "Thaidene Nene" as the name of the proposed protected area.

     6.   Formal Thaidene Nene establishment discussions between Canada and the LKDFN commenced in September 2010. Execution of an Establishment Agreement will allow the Minister of the Environment to recommend to Parliament the legislated protection of Thaidene Nene.

I lack sufficient information at this point to say more, but in upcoming months hope to learn about the complicated process of establishing a park in land that has been lived on for centuries and that may contain mineral (e.g., gold, diamonds) and hydroelectric resources coveted by many.  Thaydene Nene may shed some light on the culture and politics of the area as well as be a beautiful place to paddle.

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