A new collaborative park project for the north



photo by Robert Fréchette

Covering an incredible 26,910 square kilometres of pristine land untouched by development, the new Tursujuq National Park project, on the eastern coast of Hudson Bay, highlights the transition between the boreal forest and tundra.

Located near the Inuit community of Umiujaq, this new park project was given a green light last December and is a collaborative effort of the Inuit of Nunavik, the Crees of Eeyou Istchee and the province of Quebec.

Featuring incredible natural treasures as playful seals and beluga whales in the summertime, breathtaking landscapes, basins uniquely sculpted by meteoric impact and vestiges from over 3000 years of human activity, this land tells its own story of evolution and survival.

“Tursujuq Park is a place where natural resources are conserved, where cultural values are celebrated, and where visitors from within Nunavik and beyond can understand, appreciate and enjoy the heritage that the park protects and presents. The park showcases Inuit history, traditions and present-day uses,” explained Charlie Makiuk of Nunavik Parks Canada.

“It is a source of identity and pride to the local people. It provides a source of employment to the local community and brings in income by attracting visitors. The park plays a bigger role still in helping Quebec meet its planning and political objectives for its parks and protected-areas program,” added Makiuk.

The Nation checked in with Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come to find out the role the Grand Council of the Crees played in this project.


The Nation: What was the Cree involvement in this project and how has the GCC contributed to this process?

Grand Chief Coon Come: The Crees have been involved for over a decade to see this park become a reality. In the beginning, the government put aside over 10,000 km2 of this area for a future park in the early 1990s but they knew they would need full participation of the inhabitants of that area – the Crees of Whapmagoostui and the Inuit of Kuujjuaraapik and Umiujaq. In 1994, the Hunting Fishing Trapping Coordinating Committee, which consist of Cree, Inuit, Naskapi, Canada and Quebec members, passed a resolution for the creation of this park, but it must ensure that the harvesting rights within section 24 of the JBNQA were to be respected.

A working group involving the Inuit and Cree along with the Quebec government developed the provisional master plan in 2008. This master plan is standard for all park proposals. Not only does it speak of the natural beauty of the area, but it demonstrates that this park can conserve the environment and wildlife and create and economy by means of tourism. This balance is essential and will be properly designed in the park’s management plan.

Prior and even after the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) procedure, from around 2006 to 2009, the Crees of Whapmagoostui were involved in many public consultations and studies. And it was during these consultations that many people, including the Cree, stressed to the Quebec government that the park needed to include the Nastapoka watershed, which is located north of the original proposal. This was not taken into consideration and therefore, the provincial administrator approved the project with its original boundary of 15,549 km2.

The Kativik Regional Government (KRG) worked arduously to remove the Nastapoka River from Hydro-Québec’s plans and to convince the Quebec government to include this area in the park boundaries. The KRG sought the help from environmental groups and the Crees. Last summer, the Grand Council received a request by the KRG to support the expansion, the Grand Council answered back positively. With the persistence of the Inuit, Crees, environmental groups and the public, the government almost doubled the area to include the Nastapoka watershed with a total of 26,910km2. It is now one of the largest national parks in North America.


TN: Why was it a project that the Cree were interested in pursuing?

GC: The Crees fought a great battle almost two decades ago; it saw the shelving of the Great Whale project. This area is close to the Great Whale project and this area does too have hydroelectric potential. The Crees of Whapmagoostui have used these lands for thousands of years and will continue to do so and the Grand Council wants to see this land stay in its natural state. When this area was designated for park status, the Crees were in full support.

The creation of protected areas in southern Eeyou Istchee is a big struggle; it is a constant battle with mining and forestry activity, which is what we are seeing right now with two proposals from Waswanipi and Nemaska. They are trying to protect one of the last remaining virgin forest stands and woodland caribou habitat along the Broadback River and the Grand Council is behind them 100%. So when we have an opportunity to protect our land and the rights of our people, we react and get involved.


TN: Had it not been for this project, what would have been the fate of this land?

GC: The area is unexploited but with mining exploration booming as its current rate and with Hydro-Québec always expanding its projects, we would see a fate for this area that would resemble that of southern Eeyou Istchee, where the ecological integrity have been lowered from commercial and industrial activity. But now that these industrial developments won’t be found within these park limits, we can once again bask into the beauty of the area and help in the conservation of certain species, such as the beluga whale and the landlocked salmon.


TN: To your knowledge, what is the history of the Cree people on this land?

GC: This park is located north of the 55th parallel; therefore legally speaking it’s in Nunavik. However, most of the Whapmagoostui Cree traplines are located north of the 55th. The park contains one entire Cree trapline, GW-25, Sandy Petagumskum’s hunting grounds, and then spills south into two other Cree traplines. In the 2008 ESIA study, maps, archeological and historical data indicated that Crees have used the inland area more than Inuit. The Inuit heavily use the Guillaume-Delisle area, but do not really expand beyond it. Coastal Crees are both land and sea, therefore it’s only natural that they would move further inward and the Inuit to Clearwater Lake and beyond. But this does not give the Crees more ownership of the area. We will respect the role the Inuit will play in the management of the park, but we will ensure that our rights are respected.


TN: What kinds of benefits will the Cree now enjoy as a result of this project?

GC: During the many working group sessions, consultations and the writing up of the ESIA, there’s no denying that Crees are as much a part of this park as the Inuit. This is echoed in the provincial administrator’s Certificate of Authorization. It states that the Crees must be part of the harmonizing committee that will be set up in the near future.

The original name of this park was Lacs-Guillaume-Delisle-et-à-l’Eau-Claire, it was recently changed to Tursujuq. The Crees are requesting that a sector of the park be given a Cree name – Wiyasakami, the Cree name for Clearwater Lakes. This park will promote tourism in the region and the Crees are hoping to benefit some such a productive industry. But first and foremost, the Cree and Inuit share a common goal, which is to protect the integrity of this area and we hope that this can be achieved through mutual respect for one another.