February 21, 2022

Mikisew Cree celebrate expansion of Kitaskino Nuwenëné Wildland Provincial Park | CBC News

The Mikisew Cree First Nation is celebrating the expansion of Alberta’s Kitaskano Nuwenëné Wildland Provincial Park, which the nation says will help protect the animals and watershed surrounding Fort Chipewyan. 

Another 375,000 acres were added to the park, bringing it to 775,000 acres.

This park in northeastern Alberta is part of the largest area of protected boreal forest in the world. 

The expanded area of the park is located between the Birch River Wildland Provincial Park and existing Kitaskino Nuwenëné Wildland, and south of Wood Buffalo National Park which stretches along Alberta’s northern border. 

Three oilsands companies — Athabasca Oil Corporation, Cenovus and Burgess Canadian Resources — contributed land for the expansion.

Chief Peter Powder said the Mikisew Cree First Nation started talking to industry in 2015 about creating the park. 

Elders wanted some land preserved south of Wood Buffalo Park as a buffer from the oilsands, to protect the watershed and wildlife, including caribou and bison, Powder said. 

“There’s no activity, no oilsands activity, no forestry, no nothing going on there,” he said. “I’m actually quite proud… It makes me feel good that I leave that as the chief of today for the future generations.”

The provincial park is part of the largest expanse of protected boreal forest in the world. (Government of Alberta)

Almost 98 per cent of the expansion area overlaps with caribou habitat and a small portion overlaps with the Ronald Lake bison herd.

“If we don’t protect the area for them to roam and be healthy, then they’ll just go extinct,” Powder said. 

The expansion is only Phase 2 of the project which started in 2019, according to Powder.

He’s now working with other oilsands companies to expand the park further. He believes the park could be completed within a few years. 

The First Nation is planning a celebration in the park this summer. 

Karla Ingoldsby, vice president of Thermal Oil for Athabasca Oil Corporation, said the company relinquished 230,000 acres of mineral lands to the park, land that would’ve been used by the company for future development.

“We appreciate the value of helping the government as well as the First Nations protect the environment,” Ingoldsby said. “And so we wanted to be a part of this expansion.”

The project allows First Nations to exercise their treaty and harvesting rights, she said. 

Karla Ingoldsby, vice president of Therma Oil for Athabasca Oil Corporation, said the company donated 230,000 acres of land to the expansion. (Submitted by Karla Ingoldsby)

“Something that our organization is really proud to be a part of from an environmental perspective, but also from a social perspective,” Ingoldsby said. 

Mathieu Lebel, acting director for regional planning with Alberta Environment and Parks, said the government consulted community members on the expansion last year and found strong support for it.

The provincial government provided staff to help expand the park, but did not pay for any of the land. 

The federal government invested $5.3 million from the Canada Nature Fund, said Gabrielle Lamontagne, spokesperson for Environment and Climate Change Canada. 

“This collaboration significantly adds to the largest connected area of protected boreal forest in the world,” Lamontagne said in an email.

There are currently no designated camping areas or hiking trails.

Lebel said decisions on the park management will be made at a later date. 

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