Saturday, October 14, 2006

Four times bigger than Yellowstone

I have been fairly critical of the Harper Government from Day One, but I have given them credit on occasion for doing something that's actually good for Canada. This is another of those rare opportunities. The Washington Post reports today that Rona Ambrose, Environment Minister, and the Lutsel K'e band of the Dene First Nation, have agreed to negotations that will create a new public land, tentatively named Thaydene National Park, which would be four times the size of Yellowstone.

The area is to the east of Great Slave Lake in the Northwest Territories, the fifth largest freshwater lake in North America and the second largest entirely within Canadian sovereignty. The concern is that as the diamond and uranium mining industries continue to explode and give the NWT a much needed financial boost, and the Mackenzie Valley gas pipeline goes on stream and delivers natural gas from the Beaufort Sea to the Lower 48 States, what's left of the unspoiled and primeval habitat will be lost forever. Like many natives tribes in the Near and Far North, the Dene live off the land and already some traditional caribou migration routes have been disrupted by mining developments already up and running. Not to mention that the ground water is being threatened too.

The sticking point may very well be hunting rights. Native Canadians clearly have an inherent right to hunt and fish, at least for sustenance, but they have had to fight for that in the South, and some court decisions have caused immense (and in my opinion needless) tensions between Aboriginals and white people. Clearly, terms of reference are going to have to be set on how to partition this land and ensure both that the natural habitat is respected and that natives can continue to live on the land.

It's possible that in the end, the arrangement might be to give the natives ownership but it is leased in perpetuity to all the people with free rights of access. There are examples of this, such as the privately managed but free Bruce Trail along the portion of the Niagara Escarpment that runs from Tobermory to Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario; or the many National Seashores and Lakeshores in the United States (most such designated areas are under private ownership but there are clearly marked areas where public access is allowed). Or some areas may be off limits to everyone except the Dene.

Whatever the final arrangement, it is good to see that the Conservatives see the need to make the peace both with the land as well as natives, at least in part of Canada. Now if they would only do the same across the country. Especially in Alberta, where the tar sands projects are ripping up the land and not all of the oil companies make an effort to restore it; and the ground water is permanently being destroyed by tailings, beyond anything that could be remotely considered potable.

At the very least, the Harperites should abide by the Kelowna Accord, if they have no intention to accept the Kyoto Protocol.

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