Kluane First Nation and Parks Canada are developing plans for an eco-tourism resort in the remote Donjek valley of Kluane National Park — a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Yukon with vast wilderness and glaciers.
"We're looking at it as an amazing opportunity," said Kluane First Nation Chief Mathieya Alatini, from Burwash Landing.
"It's a high-end, low-impact activity that would bring an exclusive number of visitors into the national park," she said.
Plans include building a lodge and flying visitors in by helicopter or fixed-wing airplane for packaged tours.
Alatini said clients would stay at the new lodge, have access to a personal chef, guided hiking tours, and would learn about Southern Tutchone culture from local First Nations staff.
The project is in its second year of planning and is among several partnerships Parks Canada has with Indigenous communities under its Northern Iconic Experiences Program. This summer the Carcross Tagish First Nation will offer high-end tenting at Bennett Lake. Other remote destinations under the program include Tuktut Nogait National Park in N.W.T., and Torngat Mountains National Park in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Still work to be done
"Parks Canada is excited about this," said Elise Maltin, External Relations Manager for Parks Canada in Whitehorse, about the plans for Kluane.
"This is only going to go forward as long as it's feasible and as long as our community supports what we're doing." - Colin Asselstine, Kluane Community Development Corp.
"This creates a new economic opportunity in the Kluane region through tourism," she said, adding that it's a place few visitors get to experience since it requires a three-day hike to get there.
Maltin said developing such a lodge falls within the current management plan of the park. There is, however, still work to be done before the plan comes to fruition.
The Kluane Community Development Corporation is currently doing environmental and cultural assessments. General manager Colin Asselstine said construction could begin by next year.
He said the First Nation has held several community meetings about the project.
"This is only going to go forward as long as it's feasible and as long as our community supports what we're doing," he said.
Asselstine estimates the back country experience would cost a client somewhere between $350 and $550 per night.
Looking for stumbling blocks
This isn't the first high-end First Nations eco-tourism venture in Yukon. In 2010, Great River Journeys — jointly owned by a private company and Aboriginal development corporation representing four Yukon First Nations — went bankrupt after operating just a short while. It had received millions of dollars of federal funding.
The Great River Journeys experience isn't lost on Asselstine.
"We're going to take as much time as needed to ensure we have a proper project and ensure we don't run into any stumbling blocks that Great River Journeys may have had," he said.