Where Whitemen Come to Play


National Parks & Native Peoples in the Canadian North

This year Canada is celebrating the National Park Centennial. While Parks Canada, the agency in charge of national parks, should be commended for its work to date, attention should also be focused on several issues related to the Canadian National Parks system.

Several national parks already exist in the north. More are planned, but much of the land being proposed for parks is already claimed by aboriginal peoples. Although the continuation of hunting and trapping is guaranteed in all areas of traditional use, native peoples are increasingly concerned about the level of local involvement in park management and the impact park creation will have on traditional economies.

Auyuittuq National Park Reserve, located on Cumberland Peninsula, Baffin Island, was established in 1972. Approximately 2,400 km. north of Montreal, the park reserve encompasses an area of 21,470 km², mostly north of the Arctic circle. About 400 visitors use the park annually, to climb, hike and ski. The park area was probably first inhabited about 4,000 years ago; two Inuit settlements now border Auyuittuq, Pangnirtung to the south and Broughton Island to the north on the Davis Strait coast.

In 1972, when Auyuittuq, then known as Baffin Island National Park, was established, the local residents were unsure of what impact the park would have on their lives. Parks were a foreign concept to Inuit. A common expression used in Pangnirtung when referring to parks was "the place where whiteman comes to play."(1) In the early 1970s, it was resolved in public meetings that Inuit would retain traditional resource extraction rights within the park. The continuation of traditional hunting, fishing and trapping activities within Auyuittuq was subject to an agreement at the time the park was established, but became law as a result of a National Parks Act amendment and a 1979 policy change which allows traditional use to continue "for one or more generations...and when no alternatives exist outside park boundaries."(2) While Auyuittuq is not an important hunting area because much of the park is mountainous and ice covered, the agreement is important; it allows Inuit to travel and hunt in the park unhindered. The ability to travel at will in the park is essential, for Pangnirtung Pass is an important winter transportation route between Pangnirtung and Broughton Island.

The establishment of Auyuittuq has had little influence on the hunting and trapping practices of local Inuit, but its impact on the wage economy has been much greater. In Pangnirtung, where park headquarters is located, the park is a major employer, providing full-time, part-time and seasonal employment. The impact of the park's establishment on Broughton Island is much less. There the park maintains only a small office in keeping with the few visitors who enter or exit the park through this settlement. When necessary, work is contracted out to local people. Yearly contracts are let for the removal of garbage and the maintenance of trails and currently for the removal of the Distant Early Warning (DEW) line site near Broughton Island. While the creation of 12 jobs from Auyuittuq's establishment seems negligible by southern standards, it is important in the Baffin Region where unemployment hovers around 40 percent.(3)

In addition to direct employment, the park reserve has created several indirect local benefits. Although park visitors generally spend as little time in town as possible, they nevertheless do spend money locally. A 1983 Parks Canada report(4) indicated that 88 percent of the 1982 park visitors hired Inuit outfitters to take them by boat or skimobile to the park entrance. In Pangnirtung, an organized, standard-priced outfitting service largely serves park visitors. A smaller, less organized service is also available in Broughton Island.

The relationship between Auyuittuq National Park Reserve and local Inuit may appear satisfactory, but local participation in park planning and management remains inadequate. Auyuittuq was created in 1972, prior to the mobilization of aboriginal rights groups. Inuit hold positions that implement management decisions rather than affect them. This is in part due to the fact that Inuit lack the education for the higher positions. Thus, Inuit participation in Auyuittuq's management is confined to local advisory committees, formed in 1983, which advise the superintendent, but make no decisions on issues affecting Inuit.

Although the committees encourage community input on matters of concern to the community, they are far removed from the joint management regimes proposed by several native groups. Joint management regimes are cooperative management groups or parties consisting of members from two or more organizations with different, not necessarily exclusive, interests. Participation in the management regime by various groups is an essential way of uniting the talents of groups who may otherwise be opposed to one another.

The proposal for a joint native-government management regime was probably initiated by Berger's discussion of the Northern Yukon. In his proposal for a national wilderness park in the Yukon, Berger argued that "the people of Old Crow must play an important part in the management of the park and in particular of the caribou herd."(5) While the status of the Northern Yukon Park remains undecided, Bergers call for joint management regimes did not go unnoticed. As part of the 1978 "Agreement in Principle" signed between the Committee for Original Peoples Entitlement (COPE), representing the western Arctic Inuvialuit and the federal government, a national was to be established in the Northern Yukon. Land ownership would be vested in the crown and the park would be administered under prevailing Parks Canada policies, but substantial involvement by the Inuvialuit would be guaranteed. A joint planning committee consisting of representatives from the Inuvialuit, the Yukon Indians and the territorial and federal governments would work together to formulate a management plan for the area. Although the final agreement has been reached, the management structure for the proposed park remains unknown to the public.

The Inuit Tapirisat of Canada (ITC) released a report on national parks in Nunavut, the area under claim by the ITC, stating that "the principle of eventual local control over the planning and management of national parks is an essential precondition for productive local consultations."(6)

Responding to increased pressure for new management directions, particularly with regard to the settlement of native claims. Parks Canada's new policy states:

Where new national parks are established in conjunction with the settlement of land claims of the native people, an agreement will be negotiated between Parks Canada and representatives of local native communities prior to formal establishment of the national park creating a joint management regime for the planning and management of the national park.(7)

No joint management regimes now exist in the national park system, but Parks Canada has continued to work on a suitable model for the future. At present, aspirations for joint management regimes by native groups may be too optimistic; the 1982 Parks Canada proposal states, "This term has given rise to expectations for a degree of native control of park management which Parks Canada may not have intended and cannot fulfill under prevailing attitudes and circumstances."(8) Parks Canada's joint management proposal would allow for local decision-making in resource harvesting issues.

Clearly this is as far as Parks Canada intends to go. The final agreement for the establishment of a national park reserve on northern Ellesmere Island is pending. Although the government of the Northwest Territories (NWT) and the ITC's support for the park was conditional on whether some power over management decisions would be devolved to a local committee, it appears that there will be little effective local participation in park management. The "Park Planning and Establishment Principles" released in February 1984 state that Parks Canada will be responsible for renewable resource management within the park and will: ...concerning any practice of and continuation of hunting, fishing and trapping by native people, consult with the Government of the NWT and the Grise Fiord HTA (Hunters and Trappers Association) in developing hunting and trapping regulations under the National Parks Act.(9)

Such a clause is meaningless in this case, for traditional extractive activities will be permitted in national parks, "...when such uses are an essential part of the local way of life and when no alternatives exist outside the park boundaries."(10) Inuit do not hunt and trap regularly on northern Ellesmere Island, so it appears that while Parks Canada has provided for some local decision-making, it probably won't even be necessary. Suggesting that local control will be exercised over these activities, while simultaneously not guaranteeing that these activities will even be permitted, is an act of bad faith on the part of Parks Canada.

It has been argued that, at least in the case of Auyuittuq, the establishment of national parks has a negligible impact on the traditional economy and a positive impact on the wage economy. However, several issues surrounding the relationship between native peoples and national parks require more research and discussion. The concept of joint management regimes/requires further development. Parks Canada officials should follow the example of other nations, Australia in particular, where Kakadu National Park was created in conjunction with the settlement of an aboriginal land claim. A joint management regime between the local Aboriginals and the Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service is in place, and although it is not completely satisfactory, it does provide initiative.

In addition, Parks Canada should consider further decentralization of its policy and administration. This could provide for varied management agreements which would allow native peoples to progress through the management structure. Inherent in this provision is the necessity to evaluate and improve the training available to native peoples. Again, experience may be gained from Australian Aboriginal training programs, which appear to be much more advanced than those in Canada.

Theoretically, national parks established on lands claimed by aboriginal peoples do not legally prejudice future land claim settlements; in practice this is not the case. By subjecting an area to one type of land use and management regime, the land is effectively withdrawn from possible native claim. For this reason Canada's native peoples should reject national park establishment on lands they occupy until a claims settlement is reached. In order to guarantee full participation in management by native peoples, it may be necessary to allow for national park lands to be vested in agencies other than the crown. This would allow for a situation similar to that in Kakadu where aboriginal owners lease the park land to the ANPWS, therefore guaranteeing management participation by virtue of holding title to the land. Until these and other issues are resolved, national parks in the north will continue to be known as the place where the whiteman controls and plays.


(1). Inuit Tapirisat of Canada, 1979, "Report to Establish National Wilderness Parks in Inuit Nanangut," Ottawa, p. 34.

(2). Parks Canada, 1979, Parks Canada Policy. Department of Environment, Ottawa, p. 32.

(3). "Inuit at Grist Fiord Outsiders Too." Globe and Mail, September 8th, 1983.

(4). Parks Canada, 1983, "Auyuittuq National Park Reserve 1982 Visitor Survey Report." Socio Economic Division, Program Management, Ottawa.

(5). Berger, T., 1977. Northern Frontier, Northern Homeland - The Report of the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline Inquire: Vol. 1., Minister of Supply and Services, Ottawa, p. 48.

(6). ITC, op. cit., p. 1.

(7). Parks Canada, 1979. Parks Canada Policy, Department of Environment, Ottawa, p. 40.

(8). Parks Canada, 1982, "Joint Management Regimes: A Proposed Management Guideline for Native People's Participation in Planning and Management of Northern Parks," National Parks System Division, Ottawa, p. 2.

(9). Parks Canada, 1984, "Ellesmere Island National Park Reserve Proposal - Park Planning and Establishment Principles," Ottawa, p. 6.

(10). Parks Canada, 1979. Parks Canada Policy, Department of the Environment, Ottawa, p. 32.

Article copyright Cultural Survival, Inc.

CSQ Issue: