By Jacob Cardinal
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
A report commissioned by the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN) has shed light on the dark history of Canada’s largest National park: Wood Buffalo.
The report, which was created by Alberta-based consulting firm Willow Springs Strategic Solutions, is made up of archival material and interviews with Elders and First Nation residents.
It details the amount of injustice First Nation people faced during the creation of the park, such as: starvation, displacement, and stolen land.
The park was created as a preserve in 1922 and later expanded in
1926 as an alleged way for the Canadian Government to halt the dwindling Buffalo population in Canada.
Hunting rights were even stripped from the First Nation people because the Government believed that they were recklessly over-hunting the Buffalo.
Policies were also put in place by the Canadian Government against the First Nation people that included warrantless searches of homes for illegal furs and meat, strict permitting systems that displaced many First Nations, and centuries-old harvesting and cultural sites being made off-limits.
Some First Nation houses were burnt down as well.
The direct result of these policies was the starvation of the First Nation people in the Fort Chipewyan area.
In 1927, ACFN Chief Jonas Laviolette wrote in a letter to Indian Affairs saying, “There are lots of men here looking after the buffalo, no one looking after us? no one seems to care if we starve or not.”
Despite the policies however, there were some First Nations who managed to remain in the area. That is until 1944, when the remaining Dene people in the area were forcefully moved to the Mikisew Cree.
The First Nations were not consulted.
Because of the history of the park, the ACFN is now asking for the right to hunt, trap, fish and forage in the traditional lands of Wood Buffalo.
They are also demanding an official apology, reparations for decades of lost land-use, and an agreement on their relationship with Parks Canada.
“The land was rich in abundance of fur and made a lot of people rich. But the Dene people? Nothing,” said ACFN Chief Allan Adam.
“They picked protecting animals over human beings.”
“Now they want our help turning the park into a tourist attraction and help developing game regulations, when we haven’t even been allowed to hunt in the park for almost a hundred years.”
The Chief continued, “Why would we want to help bring people from around the world to the park when we can’t even get someone saying `sorry we kicked your ancestors out of their lands and their homes?”’
This is not the first time that the First Nation has asked for an apology however, as the first request came in March 2020 during a meeting with Federal Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson and Ron Hallman, president and CEO of Parks Canada.
And if the First Nation had a good meeting, then I wouldn’t be writing about the current situation in 2021.
The Wood Buffalo National Park is located between Northeastern Alberta and Southern Northwest Territories. At 44,807 km2, Wood Buffalo is larger than Switzerland and is considered the second-largest National Park in the world.
The spokesperson for Parks Canada said that they recognize the hardships and alienation experienced by the First Nation people.
“It is our hope that the next 100 years of Wood Buffalo National Park’s existence is marked by shared governance and sound management that recognizes and celebrates this beautiful landscape and the unique Indigenous cultures that have shaped it and have been shaped by it,” the spokesperson said.
The 100th anniversary of the Park is set to take place in 2022.
Jacob Cardinal is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the ALBERTA NATIVE NEWS. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.