Proposal for the Northwest Territories’ new Thaidene Nene park go on public view on Wednesday evening.

From 7pm at the Tree of Peace in Yellowknife, a public consultation will hear views on the park’s proposed boundaries, taking in the area of Great Slave Lake’s East Arm and beyond.

The territorial government says it has worked hard to balance the potential for mineral exploitation in the area with its natural beauty and cultural significance.

More information: Land of the Ancestors – Thaidene Nene background

The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, or CPAWS, wants to make sure those business interests don’t “whittle down” the size of the park any further.

“The East Arm is amazing. There are so many Yellowknifers who spend time out there, who love the area and want it to stay how it always has been, and that’s the whole goal of the park,” said Erica Janes, from CPAWS’ NWT chapter.

“If you care about the East Arm and spend time there, this is a really important opportunity to let the GNWT know that you want to see as much of it as possible protected without being whittled down to a smaller area.”

Janes also wants to see the park established on a permanent basis.

At the moment, the park is a complex beast: parts will be a national park, while parts will become the first territorial park to be created by the Northwest Territories government since devolution.

Wednesday’s public consultation refers solely to the territorial part – with which Janes has concerns, as territorial legislation doesn’t yet allow the permanent withdrawal of land for the creation of a park.

But environment minister Michael Miltenberger promised Moose FM amended legislation is on the way, and the government’s intent is to create a permanent park.

“Our Parks Act is in need of being rewritten,” Miltenberger admitted. “It’s an old piece of legislation and it doesn’t allow for permanent withdrawals. We need to have that tool as a government, and we don’t currently have it.

“The existing Parks Act can get us started but if we are serious – as we are – that the land has to be permanently withdrawn, so it can be a bona fide park, then we need the tools to do that.”

The region in question covers some 33,000 square kilometres. Miltenberger expects debate from the public about how much of that land is given over to the park, and how much is set aside for potential mining projects.

“We have a range of folks that want to see all land open for development,” he said. “Other folks at the other end of the spectrum would like to see the study area even bigger, totally withdrawn forever. Then you have everybody in between.

“We’ve excluded more land for potential mineral development areas than was initially proposed. That’s going to be the debate.

“We’re going to find a way forward where we can acknowledge that, yes, we’re proposing to excise out significant parts of the study area and leave them for future development. At the same time, clearly, we’re saying we concur that parts of the study area are worthy of some type of conservation designation.

“This jewel is worthy of protection. We also recognize there is a balance with some high mineral potential areas identified, but clearly it’s an area worthy of support. It’s without equal anywhere.”

Thaidene Nene

Photo: Mike Palmer.

Miltenberger wants the park to prop up a “conservation economy” that might point to a future source of territorial revenue beyond mining.

“While it may not churn out the billions of dollars the diamond industry does, we see the opportunity,” he told us.

Janes, meanwhile, says she’s confident the GNWT “is serious” about using its new park creation powers wisely.

She believes Thaidene Nene – a park first proposed in 1970 – could enter existence as a fully fledged national and territorial park in the next two to three years.