Ottawa marks legal protection of 12-year-old Nunavut national park

“Until last summer the park was not officially enshrined”

By JIM BELL


Ex-Prime Minister Jean Chrétien speaks Aug. 23, 2003 in Iqaluit at the “creation” of Ukkusiksalik National Park. The 20,800-square-kilometre national park did not get official legal status until Aug. 12, 2014. (FILE PHOTO)

Like they say, it’s better late than never.

Though the federal government “created” Ukkusiksalik National Park in 2003, the granting of legally-enforceable protected status to the 20,800-square-kilometre area surrounding the Kivalliq region’s Wager Bay wasn’t marked until this past July 2.

That’s when Nunavut MP Leona Aglukkaq, the federal environment minister, flew to Naujaat where she “officially opened” Ukkusiksalik amidst other celebrations aimed at marking the community’s change of name from Repulse Bay.

“The park will not only promote our culture and traditions, it will foster tourism, create jobs and economic opportunities for Inuit living in surrounding communities,” Aglukkaq said in a July 2 news release.

Those words could easily have been copied and pasted from a gushing speech that Jean Chrétien, the former Liberal prime minister, gave at Inuksuk High School in Iqaluit on Aug. 23, 2003, when he declared the park’s creation.

Chrétien’s oration was one of several long rambling speeches given that day, some of them from a squadron of Nunavut bigshots seated with him in the front row, during an event attended by numerous invited guests, journalists and curious members of the public.

That 2003 event was followed by a weekend feast and dance in Naujaat, a celebration that Chrétien did not attend.

But in Iqaluit he also signed an Inuit impact and benefit agreement for the project with Tongola Sandy, then the president of the Kivalliq Inuit Association, worth $3 million in cash and containing provisions aimed at creating jobs and business opportunities for Kivalliq Inuit.

“The addition of Ukkusiksalik National Park of Canada ensures that a vast landscape will be protected for this generation and future generations to appreciate and enjoy,” Chrétien said that day.

Since then, Parks Canada has always listed Ukkusiksalik on its website as a national park, established in 2003.

The only problem is, Ukkusiksalik never was a legal national park with legally enforceable protected status under federal law.

That didn’t occur until Aug. 12, 2014, when the federal cabinet added Ukkusiksalik to the list of parks protected by the Canada National Parks Act.

“Until last summer the park was not officially enshrined under the Canada National Parks Act, which means that it was not officially a national park and did not have the same legal and environmental protections as a national park,” Jonathan Lefebvre, Aglukkaq’s senior communications advisor, said in an email.

Earlier in 2014, the park’s boundaries were finally settled, after the KIA and the federal government swapped some parcels of land to add 327 square kilometres to the approximately 20,000-square-kilometre national park.

And it was only this year, less than four months before a federal election expected this fall, that Aglukkaq, the minister responsible for Parks Canada, flew to Naujaat to mark the August 2014 enshrinement of Ukkusiksalik under the Canada National Parks Act.

Now, as in 2003, the Wager Bay area is valued for its history, landscape and abundant wildlife resources, on land and in the sea.

Its boundaries contain the remains of an old Hudson Bay Co. post and a former Roman Catholic mission. As well, a private tourism facility called Sila Lodge operated there for many years.

Its inventory of wildlife species includes caribou, muskox, wolf, polar bear, barren-ground grizzly and Arctic hare, as well as golden eagles, peregrine falcons and other species, Parks Canada says.

It’s also valued for its varied landscape, which includes eskers, mudflats, cliffs, rolling tundra banks and unique stretches of coastline.

As in other national parks, Inuit continue to exercise the right to hunt and fish there and it is managed under the oversight of a park management committee that includes representatives from Naujaat, Coral Harbour, Chesterfield Inlet, Baker Lake and Rankin Inlet.

The park’s operational centre is located in Naujaat.

This map shows the boundaries of Ukkusiksalik National Park, which weren't finalized until August 2014, even though the Kivalliq Inuit Association ratified an Inuit impact and benefits agreement for the protected area in 2001 and signed the deal in 2003. (IMAGE COURTESY OF PARKS CANADA)


This map shows the boundaries of Ukkusiksalik National Park, which weren’t finalized until August 2014, even though the Kivalliq Inuit Association ratified an Inuit impact and benefits agreement for the protected area in 2001 and signed the deal in 2003. (IMAGE COURTESY OF PARKS CANADA)

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