YELLOWKNIFE - Senator Nick Sibbeston said that the proposed expansion of the Nahanni Park Reserve must be reasonable and must balance the desire for environmental protection with the need for economic development. "The present park reserve of 4,700 km2 may be insufficient but the proposal to expand it seven-fold to nearly 34,000 km2 is outrageous. This would encompass nearly one-sixth of all the land in the Deh Cho including two existing mines. It would shut off a huge portion of the southwestern Northwest Territories to meaningful economic development forever."
Although Sibbeston indicated he does support the eventual creation of the Nahanni National Park, after the Deh Cho land claim is settled, as well as a modest increase in its size, he expressed concern that the proposed expansion being promoted by southern environmental groups and Parks Canada officials would compromise the economic future of the region and its people. "This land grab will mainly serve the very narrow interests of parks officials who often operate parks like private fiefdoms with little concern for the well-being of local people. Once park boundaries are established, it is very difficult ever to change them."
Sibbeston cited the example of Tuktut Nogait National Park created in 1989. After the boundaries were drawn but before the park was established, a potential mine was discovered in one corner of the proposed park. The local people in Paulatuk and the Inuvialuit Regional Council wanted the park boundary redrawn so they might benefit from this rare economic opportunity but it proved impossible.
"The Deh Cho has a rapidly growing population. Many young people now in school or training will want and need jobs. Any future Deh Cho aboriginal government will need economic development to generate revenues for their services and programs. Parks have many benefits, but they do not have a history of creating large numbers of jobs and business opportunities for local people. Nor will an expanded Nahanni Park provide significant revenues to a Deh Cho government."
Sibbeston went on to call for changes in the way national parks in the North operate to ensure more local benefits. A comprehensive Mineral and Energy Resources Assessment needs to be completed as well. "There is undoubtedly gold - and maybe diamonds - in them there hills but the necessary research hasn't been done," he said. Once the assessment is done, the results must be fully communicated to the people of the region at the community level so that effective consultation can lead to a rational decision on the appropriate size of the Nahanni National Park. "To pre-empt that process would be fundamentally undemocratic. Our children do not want a hasty decision; they want a correct one, one we can all live with, forever."
Senator Sibbeston's executive assistant Hayden Trenholm may be reached at 613-943-7790.