Protected areas
Land preservation conference fails to attract all the main players

by Glenn Taylor
and Ralph Plath

NNSL (Mar 10/97) -The North needs a plan to protect its wilderness, but it won't come about all at once.

Participants at the NWT's first Protected Areas Strategy conference last week in Inuvik reached consensus on the plan's importance. But not every region was represented, with large portions of the North left to tackle the problem on their own.

The GNWT and the federal government agreed last August to develop a strategy by the end of 1998.

The strategy is part of a national biodiversity scheme to preserve land for cultural, scientific, educational, aesthetic, recreational or biological purposes, so as to maintain natural conditions or preserve certain features.

Other provinces such as B.C are already implementing their portion of the strategy.

The Inuvik guest list of 120 included claim groups, environmentalists, industry executives and politicians. They were split into groups according to region: North Mackenzie, North Slave, and South Slave.

While all groups agreed they must work together, each interest group expressed concerns during the conference.

Several aboriginal politicians said the process should be driven not by the federal or territorial governments, but by the communities or claim groups themselves.

"The Sahtu Dene see the protected areas as working under our land claim," said Fort Good Hope Chief John T'Seleie. "We don't see a territory-wide strategy being developed and then being imposed on our communities and regions. We see it working the other way, from the communities up."

The Deh Cho First Nations and Inuit of Nunavut went even further, refusing to attend the Inuvik conference altogether.

"Leaders of communities that have been working on parks development for several years feel that it is more effective to continue their own processes," stated a press release issued by the Deh Cho First Nations last week.

Deh Cho First Nations leaders said they want to maintain their roles as "keepers of the lands" and have actively pursued their intention to implement their inherent right to self-government, which includes continuing jurisdiction over lands and resources.

Though the Deh Cho First Nations want to identify areas for protection, the release says they want to do it themselves.

The Deh Cho First Nations said they support the federal plan to identify additional protected areas but that designation must be made in conjunction with Deh Cho First Nations members.

Nunavut leaders, who have a similar take on the issue, argue their land claim already makes provision for protecting wilderness areas, and see nothing to be gained by taking part in another strategy.

Mike Vaydik, general manager of the NWT Chamber of Mines, raised a warning flag of a different color. He asked what would have happened if the diamond-rich areas where BHP is developing a mine had been set aside as a protected area years ago.

"Imagine the lost opportunity cost of such a mistake," said Vaydik. "We also believe that modern mining is a responsible and sustainable land use and that it can coexist with most other uses of the land."

But Juri Peepre, national president of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, said it's not a question of playing off environmental protection against jobs.

Protected areas do not take away jobs, but rather they diversify the economy through such spinoffs as tourism, he said.

"There is place for both protected areas and industry."

The meeting was broken into three discussion groups throughout the three-day meeting. Each was asked to consider such questions as, "What are the advantages and challenges of working together?"

While interest groups may not agree on how the strategy should proceed, many at the table sided with Stephen Kakfwi, minister of resources, wildlife and economic development, who said aboriginals are the people who depend on the land the most.

"They will be the driving force determining whether or not we have a strategy," he said.