The chief of the Lutsel K’e Dene First Nation has accused the NWT Chamber of Commerce of being ignorant after its president called on the GNWT to shelf the proposed Thaidene Nene park last week.

Chamber president Richard Morland wrote to the territory’s environment minister last Monday to express a number of concerns the business community has about the project in the making.

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Originally proposed in the 1970s, Thaidene Nene covers almost 30,000 square kilometres of pristine waterways, forests and Canadian Shield around the eastern arm of Great Slave Lake.

But at a time when the territory’s economy and mining sector is in a slump, Morland says it makes little sense to discourage industrial activity on such a massive piece of land.

Felix Lockhart, chief of the Lutsel K’e Dene First Nation, responded to the chamber’s letter on Friday – calling it deeply disappointing.

“We wish to clearly communicate our deep disappointment that the NWT Chamber of Commerce has decided to oppose the decades of work by our community to permanently protect Thaidene Nene,” he said.

Felix Lockhart, chief of the Lutsel K'e Dene First Nation.

Felix Lockhart, chief of the Lutsel K’e Dene First Nation.

“It is one thing to disagree with our objectives … but it is quite another to do so in a manner which is inflammatory, ignorant and condescending.

“It reflects poorly on an organization that we understand to be mandated to advocate for businesses in all communities and all sectors of the Northern economy.”

For decades now, Lockhart says the Lutsel K’e Dene Nation has worked with federal and territorial partners to establish boundaries for the proposed park.

Once established, he says it will help diversify the territory’s economy and provide a range of new opportunities for businesses in a number of sectors – including transportation, hospitality, and tourism.

“Our estimates are that initial visitation in Thaidene Nene will significantly exceed those at Nahanni [National Park Reserve] and result in extensive through-traffic in Yellowknife and other gateway communities,” Lockhart said.

“We anticipate that tourism industry growth within Lutsel K’e alone will create 20 full-time permanent jobs and an additional 30 seasonal jobs in the first decade of operation.

“In contrast to the boom-and-bust cycles of resource development, Thaidene Nene will provide a consistent and sustained level of economic opportunities for Northerners over many generations.”

Not at the expense of future development

With that being said, Lockhart says future benefits don’t necessarily have to come at the expense of potential resource development.

“We believe that there is much to be gained by Northerners working together in partnerships towards developing a diversified economy that does not depend solely on finite natural resources.

“We believe that the NWT Chamber of Commerce has an important role to play by working with Lutsel K’e and supporting our goal to complete the designations of Thaidene Nene as a national and territorial park.”

Lockhart says he’d like to meet with the chamber to discuss Morland’s ‘deeply objectionable’ views of his people and the process that’s been undertaken to establish park boundaries.

Far from a ‘box-ticking exercise’ as Morland called it, Lockhart believes all stakeholders – including the mineral industry – have been consulted as part of the process over the years.

Last summer, an official with the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society told Moose FM she believes Thaidene Nene could enter existence as a fully-fledged national and territorial park in the next two to three years.