What it's like camping in Canada's newest national park Thaidene Nëné
CBC’s Emily Blake visited Łutsël K'é for the 1st time to learn what the park reserve means for people there
CBC North reporter Emily Blake travelled to Fort Resolution and Łutsël K'é, N.W.T. this week, for celebrations and the signing of final agreements establishing Thaidene Nëné National Park Reserve as Canada's 47th national park. It was her first time visiting those communities.
Sitting on a wooden stump in front of a crackling fire, Terri Enzoe shared a story about hunting caribou in Whitefish Lake.
Her son headed down the hill on his Yamaha Bravo, she recalled, when a herd of muskox turned around and headed straight for him.
"I was freaking out," Enzoe said, until her nephew shot in the air to scare the animals away.
"Climate change makes the animals change. It's all different now," she explained. "We never used to see muskox in the treeline before."
As Enzoe shared her story, Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna, a number of Parks Canada staff and two CBC reporters — myself included — listened intently.
We were spending the night camping at the tip of Thaidene Nëné National Park Reserve, just hours before it was established as Canada's 47th national park.
Thaidene Nëné is located on the East Arm of Great Slave Lake, northeast of Łutsël K'é, N.W.T. The community is home to about 319 people, according to the territorial government's 2018 numbers, and is a 45-minute flight away from the territory's capital.
When my assignment producer asked me last week if I wanted to travel to Łutsël K'é and go camping to cover the proverbial ribbon cutting of the park reserve, I jumped at the chance.
As a reporter in the Northwest Territories, it's rare I get to travel to communities located far away from the CBC office in Yellowknife. I'm often covering stories in communities I've never visited by talking to people over the phone.
But at the heart of the story about Thaidene Nëné is the land, water and wildlife, and the people that have relied on them for thousands of years.
The park reserve is 26,525 square kilometres of boreal forest, tundra and freshwater where animals like caribou, wolves, bears, foxes and lynx live.
While standing on the shore of our campsite behind CBC video journalist Hilary Bird, I spotted the silhouette of a group of muskox at the top of a hill against the darkening sky. Everyone rushed over to see for themselves.
"They know they've got visitors," joked Łutsël K'é Dene First Nation Chief Darryl Marlowe.
Sometime later, Enzoe spotted an eagle flying overhead. She told us it's a good luck charm.
Enzoe said she's lived off of the land her whole life. She's one of the Ni hat'Ni Dene Rangers or "watchers of the land" who are the guardians of Thaidene Nëné.
"I love my land, I protect my water and animals," she said.
Also with us at the camp are a number of the younger rangers like Valedee Lockhart.
"It's honestly the best job in the world," she said.
While Lockhart is from Łutsël K'é, she lives in Yellowknife during the school year. She said she comes back to the community to connect with the land and her culture.
Thaidene Nëné means "land of our ancestors" in the Denesoline language and it's an important hunting, fishing and spiritual place for First Nation and Métis people.
The federal and territorial protection of the area is 50 years in the making. In 1969, Parks Canada approached the Łutsël K'é Dene First Nation with its vision for a national park in the East Arm. But then chief Pierre Catholique and his council refused the plan that would prevent them from fishing and hunting in the area.
Now Thaidene Nëné will be one of the few national parks in Canada where both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people are able to fish, hunt, use motorized boats and carry a firearm. The park reserve will also be co-managed by Indigenous groups, along with the federal and territorial governments.
Getting to spend time on the land and meeting the people who care so much about it helped me better understand what protecting this area means to them.
It was an experience that I will treasure for a very long time.