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Yellowknives Dene First Nation, Canada finalize agreement over Thaidene Nëné National Park Reserve

The signing completes partnerships between Parks Canada and the Łutsël K’é Dene First Nation and the Deninu K’ue First Nation, on the Thaidene Nëné National Park Reserve Regional Management Board.

'This agreement with the federal government respects the will of our elders and our people.'

From left, Jason Snaggs, CEO of the Yellowknives Dene First Nation, Chief Ernest Betsina of Ndilo, N.W.T. MP Michael McLeod and Chief Edward Sangris of Dettah at the signing of the final agreement on Friday. (Sara Minogue/CBC)

The Yellowknives Dene First Nation has finalized an agreement with the federal government over the Thaidene Nëné National Park Reserve.

Chief Ernest Betsina of Ndilo and Chief Edward Sangris of Dettah signed the agreement with Jonathan Wilkinson, the minister responsible for Parks Canada, in a virtual gathering on Friday. 

The signing completes partnerships between Parks Canada, and two other Akaitcho Dene First Nations; Łutsël K'é Dene First Nation and the Deninu K'ue First Nation, on the Thaidene Nëné National Park Reserve Regional Management Board, Parks Canada said in a news release. It also completes a "suite of federal agreements" that are needed for the park.

"The establishment of the Thaidene Nëné National Park Reserve in Traditional Akaitcho Territory and the signing of this agreement with the federal government respects the will of our elders and our people," Betsina said in the release.

"This park is a magnificent symbol and reminder of the Creator's power and beauty represented by the land, birds, fish, animals, and pristine water which will be shared with the rest of Canada to respect and protect. 

"The Yellowknives Dene First Nation looks forward to working with the government of Canada and the other co-signees of the agreement in the promotion and operation of the park."

Agreement sets out training, employment commitments

The final agreement sets out the Yellowknives Dene First Nation's role on the regional management board, how its traditional knowledge will be used in management of the park, and commitments related to training, employment and contracting opportunities, says the release.

It says an operational management board and a regional management board "based on a consensus model" will guide management of the park.

Also, Parks Canada will support the Yellowknives Dene First Nation in the development of a tourism and boat access route strategy to boost economic activity for the First Nation.

Thaidene Në​​​​​​​né consists of 26,525 square kilometres of land northeast of Łutselk'e, including a national park and territorially protected areas. (Lutsel’ke Dene First Nation)

"The Yellowknives Dene First Nation is supportive of this national park. The park allows our membership to participate economically in the protection and co-management of the park while respecting and preserving our treaty rights, history, culture and traditions," said Sangris in the news release. "The signing of this agreement between our First Nation and Canada is done out of mutual respect and co-operation along with the other Indigenous First Nations."

Thaidene Nëné, which means "Land of the Ancestors" in the Dëne Sųłıné Yatıé language, covers 26,525 square kilometres northeast of Łutsël K'é. Of that, 14,305 square kilometres are a national park protected by Parks Canada and 12,220 square kilometres are protected by the territorial government, including a wildlife conservation area. 

Indigenous rights, including the right to hunt, trap and fish, still apply in the park.

Yellowknives Dene Ndilo Chief Ernest Betsina says the agreement with the federal government 'respects the will of our elders and our people.' (Sara Minogue/CBC)

Parks Canada, the Łutsël K'é Dene First Nation, the Deninu K'ue First Nation and the Northwest Territories government signed agreements creating Thaidene Nëné National Park Reserve in August of 2019. The Yellowknives Dene First Nation signed an agreement in principle at that time. 

The crown entered into Treaty 8 with the Akaitcho Dene First Nations over 1899 and 1900, and the First Nations have been working toward a land claim agreement for decades, having signed a framework agreement with the federal and N.W.T. governments in 2000.

Friday's news release says Thaidene Nëné will remain a national park "reserve" until land claim agreements are reached with the Akaitcho Dene First Nations, as well as the Northwest Territory Métis Nation. It says the North Slave Métis Alliance also asserts rights in the area.

The federal government says it will put $40 million into Thaidene Nëné infrastructure and operations in the park's first 12 years, and $3.4 million each year after that.

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