Chrétien makes one last visit to Nunavut

Retiring PM to sign Wager Bay park deal in Iqaluit tomorrow


Jean Chrétien makes one last journey to Iqaluit as Canada’s prime minister tomorrow, when he will sign a deal with the Government of Nunavut and the Kivalliq Inuit Association to protect the pristine waters, stark cliffs and rich wildlife of Wager Bay by creating Nunavut’s newest national park.

The ceremony will take place at Inuksuk High School at 8:30 Saturday morning.

Nunavut’s commissioner, Peter Irniq, who plans to drum dance at the ceremony, said he will savour the recognition of his ancestors’ traditional camping and hunting grounds.

“It’s like catching a caribou with lots of fat. It’s really, really nice that the ceremony is taking place,” Irniq said.

Irniq lived in Ukkusiksalik with his family as a young boy, and he remembers it as a place of many waterfalls and tasty fish.

“It’s where people like my parents used to hunt and survive as people. For me, I feel some ownership to Ukkusiksalik, because it provided my family and other people with food. It’s our home,” Irniq said.

The park includes 22,000 square kilometres in the northern Kivalliq region, just south of Repulse Bay.

At the park’s heart is Wager Bay, an inland sea that stretches west 100 kilometres from Hudson Bay. Surrounding the bay is an awe-inspiring Arctic landscape.

Its cliffs and valleys are habitat for peregrine falcons and endangered gyrfalcon, while its tidal flats and river mouths attract huge numbers of migrating birds and waterfowl.

Rivers teem with char and trout, the ocean is home to beluga, seals and polar bears, while caribou, musk ox and wolves roam the surrounding countryside. A reversing waterfall lies at the head of Wager Bay, changing directions as eight-metre tides surge in and out.

More than 500 archeological sites have been found in the park area, including inuksuit, food caches, fox traps and tent rings. Its name, “ukkusiksalik” recognizes its soapstone, which was used to carve pots and lamps.

In the summer of 1996, an oral history project on the park’s use sent a group from Repulse Bay and former residents of the park area back for a visit.

On their trip through the park they saw caribou, musk ox, polar bears, wolves, falcons, and many sites of ancient peoples, as well as the abandoned Hudson Bay company post and a Roman Catholic mission at Ford Lake.

One tourist camp – the Inuit-owned Sila Lodge – currently operates in the area.

Planning and management of the new park will likely resemble that at Nunavut’s other three national parks. Each of these parks has a joint, six-member committee that provides advice to Parks Canada on all aspects of planning and management.

The Inuit Impact and Benefits Agreement that was ratified by the Kivilliq Inuit Association in 2001 also means about $1 million in compensation for the KIA, as well as scholarships for local residents.

Under the IIBA, Inuit hunters and trappers keep all subsistence-harvesting rights in the area. Commercial char-fishing rights in one of the rivers will also be kept, in case Repulse Bay fishermen choose to use the area.

As in all national parks, commercial hunting in the park will be banned.

The amount of carving stone that can be extracted from the park will also be limited, and will be subject to special permits.

Under Nunavut’s land claims agreement, Inuit will get the first crack at any jobs and contracts associated with work in the park.

As well, a park visitors’ centre will be established in Repulse Bay, further adding to employment opportunities created by the park’s creation.

First identified as a national park reserve in 1978, Ukkusiksalik National Park was to open in June 2002, with an initiation ceremony scheduled for September, 2001. However, the events of Sept. 11, 2001 put plans for the ceremony – and the park’s opening – on hold.

Residents of Repulse Bay and KIA leaders were disappointed that the location of the ceremony for Ukkusiksalik’s creation was switched from Repulse Bay to Iqaluit.

But they hope that Heritage Minister Sheila Copps might be able to preside over a smaller ceremony in Repulse Bay at some later date.

Despite his disappointment, Tongola Sandy, president of the KIA, is looking forward to seeing Ukkusiksalik National Park come into being.

“We’ve been waiting so long, that we don’t want to wait any longer,” Sandy said.

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