I'd like to call our meeting to order.
This is meeting number 37 of the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development.
We have with us today, appearing as a witness, the Honourable Leona Aglukkaq, the Minister of the Environment.
We welcome as witnesses as well the staff from Parks Canada: Rob Prosper, vice-president, protected areas establishment and conservation; Kevin McNamee, director of parks establishment; and Darlene Pearson, director of policy, legislative and cabinet affairs branch, strategy and plan directorate.
Welcome, Minister. We welcome your opening comments, followed by questions from our committee members.
Thank you, Mr. Chair and honourable members. Thank you again for the opportunity to appear before this committee to speak to Bill the Nááts’ihch’oh national park reserve act.
This is important legislation to protect the lands and water of the nationally significant landscape in the Northwest Territories. Protecting the Nááts’ihch’oh national park reserve is a commitment that we had made in the 2013 Speech from the Throne, to protect the wilderness land of the Nááts’ihch’oh by 2015.
Creating this new national park reserve delivers on Canada's national conservation plan announced by the Prime Minister in May 2014. This park will help conserve our country's natural environment, restore ecosystems, and connect Canadians to nature.
We are creating this national park reserve in collaboration with aboriginal people in the Tulita district of the Sahtu settlement area. The park is subject to the provisions of the Sahtu Dene and Metis Comprehensive Land Claim Agreement. This agreement requires Parks Canada to enter into an impact and benefit agreement with the Sahtu Dene and Métis prior to establishing a national park reserve in their settlement area.
Signed in March 2012, the Nááts’ihch’oh impact and benefit plan covers cooperative management, the continuation of traditional harvesting rights, and economic opportunities.
Under the plan the community of Tulita will be the administrative centre for the Nááts’ihch’oh. This will involve the development of office space, a visitor centre, staff housing. Construction and maintenance of these facilities will employ local trades people in the community of Tulita.
Traditional use of land within the national park reserve by the Sahtu Dene, and Métis will continue as a right under the land claim agreement. They will continue to harvest wildlife and plants on parklands, including gathering plant materials for food, medicine, cultural and other personal purposes.
Mr. Chair, I will now turn to the specifics of this bill itself.
The main purpose is to establish the park under the protection of the Canada National Parks Act.
Clause 6 of Bill amends the act by adding the boundary description of the national park reserve. The boundary achieves key conservation gains, including protection of the upper reaches of the South Nahanni River, as well as the habitat for woodland caribou and grizzly bears.
The boundary in Bill is slightly different from the one announced by the Prime Minister in 2012. An area of about 20 square kilometres extending to the south shore of O'Grady Lake was added at the request of the Sahtu Dene and Métis. This addition will serve as a gateway to the park to make it easier for visitors to access.
An ecological site on one square kilometre was removed at the request of the Northwest Territories government.
We are taking steps to ensure the new national park reserve will not only protect the environment, but make meaningful contributions to the social and economic well-being of the community.
The park provides for conservation values and visitor experience without blocking access to significant areas with high mineral potential. The bill before us will continue to allow the mining industry to use several specific mineral access roads in order to access their existing mineral claims.
Finally, Mr. Chair, I would like to summarize the steps our government is taking to establish, develop, and operate this national park reserve.
Our government has provided Parks Canada with an annual operating budget of $1.4 million for the Nááts’ihch’oh. This is in addition to the $3 million in capital investment in the community of Tulita. We have established a management committee that will provide advice on the development of the park management plan, employment, training, and economic opportunities for Sahtu members.
Parks Canada has opened a temporary office in Tulita until a new one is constructed. Parks Canada has started discussions with first nations on the supply office, a visitor centre, a warehouse, and housing units.
Parks Canada has also initiated the staffing of positions in Tulita, including a site superintendent. Parks Canada is advertising positions locally in the community and is consulting with the Sahtu on how best to attract Sahtu beneficiaries.
We are committed to fulfilling the terms of our agreement with the Sahtu Dene and Metis Comprehensive Land Claim Agreement and have moved to immediately implement it.
The Nááts'ihch'oh national park reserve has received overwhelming support from stakeholder groups, leadership and community members, and local regional governments in the area. All first nations and Métis as well as stakeholder groups were invited to consultations. Meetings with the leadership and community members from several communities in the Northwest Territories and Yukon were also conducted. Of the over 1,600 individuals who participated in the consultation process, more than 96% support the creation of this park.
The Government of the Northwest Territories applauds this bill. Mr. Peter Vician, the GNWT deputy minister of the Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment, told a Senate committee on June 4, 2014, “The Government of the Northwest Territories supports the establishment of the proposed park as set out in this legislation.”
This legislation is being passed less than a year after Canada and the Northwest Territories reached a historic devolution agreement on the transfer of the administration and control of land and resources to the territorial government. Once it is established, I am confident that both governments will continue to collaborate to ensure that any development on the land outside the park will not have an impact on the national park values that we are seeking to protect through Bill .
The bill delivers on our government's northern strategy. It promotes responsible approaches to northern development that balance environmental protection with socio-economic development while empowering northerners and exercising Canada's sovereignty in the north. Northerners have shaped the federal boundary and negotiated terms of the establishment of the park.
In closing, Mr. Chairman, I urge this committee to not just think of Bill as establishing Canada's 44th national park but rather to consider the larger achievement here. Globally this is among the most significant national park expansions ever. With Bill S-5, our government has expanded by sevenfold the nearly 5,000 square kilometres of the Nahanni National Park Reserve to the point where the Nahanni/Nááts'ihch'oh national parks complex is the third largest in Canada at 35,000 square kilometres. Together Nahanni and Nááts'ihch'oh parks protect 86% of the entire South Nahanni River watershed. The two parks jointly provide habitat for up to 600 grizzly bears, nine times the number of grizzly bears within Banff National Park, Canada's first national park.
Mr. Chair, Bill is part of this Parliament's legacy to future generations.
I wish you well in your deliberations.
I would be happy to take questions.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Thanks, Madam Minister, for your presence here today on this very important subject for my constituents, the Nááts’ihch’oh national park reserve.
It has been a process that I think has had a conclusion which in some respects doesn't match up with what many of the people who were involved in the consultation had asked for, so that's something we have concerns about. We generally support the bill because it is a step forward. It may not be what all people want in the region. It may not be a complete protection for the ecosystem, and that's very evident because the upper reaches of the Nahanni watershed are not protected and can be subject to mineral development.
Having lived next to a national park, Wood Buffalo, for many years, I understand the impacts that resource development around a park can have on the watershed, on the very integrity of that particular park. Of course, when you have a river that flows directly through the park and is essential to the park, when it is the essential feature of the park.... In the words of my constituents, water is the most significant feature on the land. They like to say “water is life”, in that water must be protected at all costs. That's the attitude of people in the Sahtu region.
In the process of not choosing the larger boundaries, which would have excluded some mineral and resource development from taking place because it would have been within the park boundary, you've made some deliberate choices that didn't really stand up to the opinions of the public. Can you explain why you chose to go with the smaller boundary for the park and exclude these potential developments that if allowed to go ahead would likely have impacts on the pristine nature of the park and of the river system?
The silent majority was in support of it.
Mr. Dennis Bevington: Okay.
Hon. Leona Aglukkaq: That's the process we go through in a consultation. We put submissions forward. We seek the feedback of organizations. Some people spoke against and some people spoke...in this particular case, of the 1,603, 60 didn't....
The other point I want to raise here is that in soliciting the public's comments on the three boundary options, Parks Canada was very clear and told the public that it's not a vote; it's a discussion. It's also clear that it is unlikely that the final park boundaries will look exactly like the options that have been presented. It is not just public consultation that determines the final boundary for the national park. For the Nááts’ihch’oh, consideration was also given to the views of the Government of the Northwest Territories, the results of the mineral and energy resource assessments, and the strategic values of that.
All of these were considered and the boundary was changed to add a 20 square kilometre extension to the O'Grady Lake area at the request of the Sahtu Dene and Métis. The Sahtu Dene and Métis also supported the extension to the O'Grady Lake area, so these were all factored into making the determination of the boundaries.
Our government added a 20 square kilometre extension to the national park reserve on the south shore of O'Grady Lake. This is in response to the request from the Tulita, as well as the Sahtu Dene and Métis groups.
O'Grady Lake is one of only two places in the northern part of the watershed where float planes can land and take off with parties of hikers and their gear. Including O'Grady Lake in the park will encourage more visitors to come to the park. They can use it as a base camp for wilderness hiking, increasing economic and employment prospects for aboriginal people related to outfitting and guiding visitors.
The Sahtu Dene and Métis, signators to the impact and benefit plan, requested and were consulted about the changes, and there was unanimous support for the addition of the O'Grady Lake extension.
In addition, a small one-kilometre archaeological site in the Mackenzie Mountains was excluded from the park, also at the request of the Northwest Territories government.
Those were the two changes that we have made to the boundaries since 2012.
The benefits in the creation of this or expansion of the park will flow from the impact and benefit agreement signed in March 2012 by Canada, as well as the Sahtu Dene and first nations of the Tulita district. The benefits include employment: eight full-time positions, which include six permanent jobs and two training positions for the first five years in order to develop the necessary skills. Parks Canada offices and the visitor reception centre will be located in Tulita.
There will be additional economic opportunities for the Sahtu Dene, including contracting provisions and a $50,000 scholarship fund to benefit members of the Tulita, Fort Norman Métis and Norman Wells land corporations pursuing post-secondary education, providing more opportunities for beneficiaries to pursue careers for direct jobs in the park.
A cooperation management committee has also been established for the park. Nááts'ihch'oh national park reserve also protects land that has been travelled and used by traditional harvesters for many, many years. That will now be protected for the benefit of the Dene in the Tulita district. As well, the aboriginal people will continue to exercise their traditional harvest of the wildlife as well as the plants in the park.
In summary, those are some of the initiatives that have been agreed to under the impact and benefit agreement for the benefit of the Sahtu Dene individuals.
I would ask our committee to come back to order, please.
We have appearing with us by teleconference, from the Tulita Renewable Resources Council, Rocky Norwegian, president. We have his name tag at the end of the table, so when you have a question, members, please direct it to one of the members, so we don't waste time trying to decide who has been asked the question.
Also with us by teleconference from the Northwest Territories, we have Sahtu Secretariat Incorporated, Ethel Blondin-Andrew, chairperson.
Welcome. We're going to proceed in the order I just listed.
Mr. Norwegian, I'm assuming you will proceed with your opening statement, and then Ms. Blondin-Andrew later.
Mr. Norwegian, go ahead please.
My name is Rocky Norwegian, Senior. I'm a member of the board of directors of the Fort Norman Metis Land Corporation, and I am also the president for the renewable resources council in Tulita. I have a responsibility for Nááts'ihch'oh.
When I signed the impact and benefit plan that enabled the bill on behalf of the Fort Norman Métis and the renewable resource council, I did so with a great deal of happiness and pride.
The impact and benefit plan was entered into as a result of chapter 16 of the Sahtu Dene and Metis Comprehensive Land Claim Agreement. The comprehensive agreement was entered into on September 6, 1993 and was ratified by legislation that received royal assent on June 23, 1994. I mention this because without the comprehensive agreement there would be no national park for you to consider today. The comprehensive agreement is the first and so far only treaty that specifically includes the Métis people.
I want to acknowledge the contributions that each member of the Tulita district Nááts'ihch'oh working groups past and present has made to the achievement that is embodied in the bill you are considering. I also want to acknowledge all past and present members of the board of directors of the organizations that approved the impact and benefit plan, not once but twice. The first approval was with the greater land area that we had agreed to with Parks Canada. The second approval was with the area that was reduced by , the then-minister of AANDC, that we reluctantly agreed to.
I also want to acknowledge the elders who were with us through the negotiations, as well as those who have passed on since the finalizing of the Sahtu Dene and Metis Comprehensive Land Claim Agreement. I would particularly like to remember my good friend and mentor, the late Rod Hardy, one of our elders who passed on just before we started the negotiations, who brought us to where we are today. Rod was a great supporter of the Yellowstone to Yukon concept that is sometimes simply called the Y-to-Y. Nááts'ihch'oh fills in another spot in the Y-to-Y concept.
I would also like to acknowledge the work of Chief Frank Andrew of the Tulita Dene band, who played a significant role in bringing the impact and benefit plan to finalization, which has in turn enabled the legislation you are now considering.
The impact and benefit plan is very significant for us as it is the first complete agreement that we have made with the Parks Canada agency. We have made complete agreements with many oil and gas companies and mining companies, but never one such as this one. It is not without significance that we negotiated and completed a cooperative agreement with Selwyn Resources about four years ago. The Selwyn mine borders Nááts'ihch'oh, and a road to the mine will run through Nááts'ihch'oh. This is fine with us as it illustrates how the proponents of conservation and resource extraction can be good neighbours.
The process used to complete the agreement is a good illustration of how the Sahtu Dene and Metis Comprehensive Land Claim Agreement can be used to bring significant economic benefits to the beneficiaries of the comprehensive agreement, and at the same time protect a significant part of our homeland. The impact and benefit plan and the subsequent legislation would not have been possible without the Sahtu Dene and Metis Comprehensive Land Claim Agreement and the leadership of the Government of Canada.
I will not go into the details of the impact and benefit plan, but I can tell you that it was approved by the board of directors and the members of all three corporations and both renewable resource councils, knowing that it would lead to the legislation being considered by you today. I can tell you that we are now actively engaged in the implementation of the plan by way of our participation in the management committee.
I am also sure that the members of all three land corporations look forward to taking advantage of the employment, training, education, and scholarship opportunities that are provided for in the impact and benefit plan. Additionally, the members who have businesses also have opportunities that are provided for in the plan.
Notwithstanding our support for the bill, there remains one outstanding issue, and that is the boundaries of Nááts'ihch'oh. Although we are not completely happy with these boundaries—we supported more land being included—we are prepared to accept what is in front of you today. We accept what is in front of you today in the hope that in the not too distant future the boundaries will be expanded to include more land.
In the meantime we have another avenue open to us to push for more protection of the land in the area.
The other avenue is the Sahtu Land Use Plan and the requirement that it deal with the lands that were part of the lands that were withdrawn for negotiation purposes but not included in Nááts’ihch’oh.
It would be helpful if the committee could recommend passage of the bill with a caveat that Parks Canada open negotiations to expand the boundaries to protect more of the ecosystem of Nááts'ihch'oh, and that the current land withdrawal order, which is scheduled to end on March 31, 2015, be extended indefinitely until an expansion agreement is reached.
Mahsi Cho, merci beaucoup, and thank you.
Good afternoon. I was very happy to listen to Minister Aglukkaq speak to the bill. My colleague, Rocky Norwegian, Senior, and I have had the opportunity to be a part of this process since the onset of the work to begin the establishment of this park when the Government of Canada itself had requested the expansion of the Nahanni headwaters.
Minister, committee Chair, and members, both MPs and senators, I would like you to know that as the former member of Parliament for this area for 18 years, I'm extremely proud to have been part of this process. It shows you there is life after politics for one, and that good things can be done in partnership.
My name is Ethel Blondin-Andrew. I am the chairperson for Sahtu Secretariat Incorporated. I'm serving my second term representing the 3,500 Sahtu Dene and Métis land claim beneficiaries.
On behalf of the SSI, I was involved in the initial planning and establishment of the Nááts’ihch’oh national park reserve of Canada. I am pleased to make these comments to you on behalf of the SSI. I no longer sit on the board or have any direct contact with the daily work to ensure that the benefits agreement is actually implemented. However, I'm sure like everybody else who was involved we keep a leery eye out and watch what's happening on a grander scale.
I'm pleased to make these comments to you because there is a high level of interest in what's happening here.
The area of the park has great cultural significance to the Sahtu Dene and Métis, and in particular the Mountain Dene. This area has a special spiritual significance to the Mountain Dene who have lived and used these lands and resources since time immemorial. Our people have always recognized that these lands within the national park hold special powers, meaning we've carried those messages in our oral tradition as our languages are spoken not written.
The Mountain Dene traditionally travelled throughout the area of the park visiting among the various tribal groups. Our grandparents and parents took their children to this area in order to teach them about culture and the stories of the land. This experience formed an important part of our identity, culture, and beliefs. This is where we learned to be self-sufficient, and to be good hunters, workers, and providers.
Our people would usually go up the Keele River which goes into the national park. They would walk into the mountains to the headwaters such as the Nááts’ihch’oh area and O'Grady Lake, which is known as Túoch'ee Tuwé, to live throughout the winter and hunt moose. The following spring and summer they would return by the Keele River to the Mackenzie River in big moose-skin boats filled with freshly harvested moose meat and other goods.
Today the Mountain Dene still use this area for traditional purposes. We continue to use it for spiritual purposes and to hunt moose, sheep, and caribou. Occasionally and more than occasionally I've seen my colleague, Mr. Norwegian, and myself up in the Caribou Flats area doing what has been carried on for thousands of years by our ancestors, harvesting food in the fall.
The Sahtu Dene and Métis support the establishment of the park. We maintain that any park in the settlement area must be created and managed in partnership with the Sahtu Dene and Métis and based on our cultural traditions, spiritual values, and economic aspirations.
I can say we were involved in the identification of the boundaries of the park and the establishment of its co-management board. The co-management board will oversee the operation of the park. This is significant because we do not see the park operating as those parks located in southern Canada. Our role on the co-management board will ensure we are involved in decisions relating to the management of the park and ensure that operation of this park will be consistent with our values and traditions.
I must say that this is consistent with the basic tenets of the land claims agreement, which is a document that really promotes co-management. We took a practical and balanced approach with respect to the planning and establishment of the park and its management. We wanted a park to protect the land. We wanted to ensure that our people are able to continue to hunt and trap within this area and use the lands and resources of this area for traditional purposes if they choose to do so. But we also see potential economic development opportunities in this area, including mine development.
The western part of the park is rich in minerals, including the Selwyn lead-zinc deposit which is considered to be one of the biggest deposits in the world. I point out that the Sahtu Dene and Métis have a partnership agreement with the proponent of Selwyn with respect to this deposit. We have a cooperative agreement that's actually being reinvigorated and revisited. I was at a meeting with Selwyn just two or three days ago in which they cited that when they build the road near the park, much of which is in the Sahtu area, they would like to do it to industrial level and that the Government of Canada looked favourably upon their aspirations to do that in concert with the Sahtu Dene and Métis and that they wanted us to support that.
My read of this is that I hear from my colleague Mr. Norwegian that we support that because it will provide economic benefits to our people. The Sahtu Dene have an interest in developing an ecotourism lodge that is connected to the park as well. We wanted to ensure that the park did not adversely impact economic development opportunities. For instance, we agreed that the Lened and Selwyn mining claims and leases should be excluded from the park.
There were compromises made, and there were practical approaches taken. A key component of the establishment of the park was the negotiation of an impact and benefit agreement. Mr. Norwegian spoke to this, so I won't bother going into details. The IBA among Sahtu land corporations, two renewable resource councils in the Tulita district, and the Government of Canada establishes infrastructure in Tulita that is intended to be the gateway to the park. There must be a federal commitment to hire new positions relating to the operation and management of the park as committed to in the IBA. There must be a commitment to provide funds for local capacity building and that hiring practices and approaches maximize local benefits in particular to ensure that the Sahtu Dene and Métis benefit from employment and other economic opportunities relating to the park.
Parks Canada has made significant commitments to the Sahtu Dene and Métis in the IBA. We must work together in collaboration if these commitments are to be realized. The Government of Canada is very familiar with this park. It started out with , and then went on to , and now we have .
The himself has actually been to Nááts’ihch’oh along with Mrs. Harper on a trip with our legal adviser and our political adviser, Rick Hardy, who took a pre-eminent role in helping to establish this park. I think some of that credit should go to the work Rick has done as well as all of the board members and the elders. It was a work in progress and it was an awesome experience to share this with the Prime Minister of our country, and to show that when people want to there can be cooperation and that things can happen positively.
We look forward to working with the Government of Canada to manage the area of the park in a balanced approach and capitalize on the benefits arising from the Nááts’ihch’oh park.
Thank you to Mr. Norwegian and Ms. Blondin-Andrew for being with us by teleconference today. I'm delighted to be able to ask you a few questions about the Nááts’ihch’oh park reserve.
In particular, Ms. Blondin-Andrew, I want to thank you for speaking with such great affection about growing up in the park, and about its culture and heritage, and about it being a way to teach our youth how to respect the land and care for it and to make conservation a priority with youth.
One of my colleagues on the committee has just written a book called A Life Outdoors. I'm shamelessly plugging his book for him, because he may be too shy to do so. Okay, he's not shy. It's subtitled, Essays on Hunting, Gathering and Country Living in the 21st Century . I suspect that you could probably write your own book of essays on hunting, gathering, and living in the north in the 21st century.
Here is your book, Bob. I'm going to buy a few copies, I just want to make that clear. It just went on sale today.
Voices: Oh, oh!
Mrs. Stella Ambler: I can hear you laughing.
Here on this committee we're all very excited about this park—I think I can speak for everyone—as well as about the Rouge national park in my neighbourhood in the greater Toronto area.
I also want to thank you for your service of, I believe, 18 years as a member of Parliament and for letting us all know that there is life after Parliament.
My question is a very general one. What are the benefits of the Nááts’ihch’oh national park reserve for first nations?
I'll go back to what we both said. We want more land. We want more land within the park. I think that's basically it.
I did hear Mr. Norwegian, who is now involved in the renewable resources council in Tulita, say that there was a process outside of this one. After we complete the agreement, if we could extend the extension for the expansion of the park, the boundaries of the park, then we could work on this. If we could get an extension to do that, to work on getting more land, that would be a great process. That would be very good.
In terms of the implications for the land claims agreement, I'm not sure there are any, except that with respect to land claims, we always welcome as much as we can gain in our impact and benefit agreement, and as much as we can gain in terms of lands, which is what the claim is all about. It's about trying to maximize benefits for our 3,500 beneficiaries.
It's good to talk to you, John.