How these parks are established is also expected to be markedly different from the creation of Canada’s existing national parks, some of which have a grim history of displacing Indigenous people from traditional territories, banning them from harvesting plants and animals and disconnecting them from the land. In Alberta, the establishment of numerous national parks, including Jasper, Banff and Wood Buffalo, involved the removal of Indigenous peoples.
The Dark Side of National Parks
Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation member Leslie Wiltzen’s great-great grandparents were among many people forced from their homes to create Canada’s largest park, Wood Buffalo National Park, which spans northeastern Alberta and the southern Northwest Territories. “As a kid, growing up in Fort Chip, we were always scared to go out to the park,” Wiltzen says. “All our ties were severed when our families were removed from the park.”
A report released last summer detailed the violent history of exclusion and displacement used to create the park in 1922 and expand it in 1926. Those events had significant and damaging impacts on families and the community as a whole, which are still experienced to this day, the report concluded.
The First Nation has asked for a formal apology, but Wiltzen says they’re still waiting. He says he spent years working as a park warden in Wood Buffalo National Park, in hopes of making change from the inside, and he has mixed feelings about the creation of new national urban parks. “The intentions are good, as long as the consent of the Indigenous peoples are sought and given,” he says. “But I get mixed feelings. It’s hard to allow something to happen when you know the past wrongdoings have never been corrected.”