Wakefield hosts N.W.T. visitors in exchange over new park

They’re 3,000 kilometres apart and lie in two very different parts of Canada, but two small communities have formed an unlikely bond over a proposed national park reserve in the North.

Last summer people from Wakefield, Que., visited the Dene community of Lutselk’e, N.W.T., on the eastern shore of Great Slave Lake. Now it’s Wakefield’s turn to host.

The idea came about when the Lutselk’e group first visited Ottawa four years ago, as the community was working toward the proposed Thaidene Nëné National Park Reserve in the Northwest Territories. 

Organizer and park reserve advocate James Marlowe was inspired by what he had seen in Gatineau Park, and got the ball rolling.

“The idea came as, what if we exchange two groups so that we can learn from both sides? Gatineau Park has the visitors centre, all the infrastructure’s in place,” Marlowe said on CBC Radio’s Ottawa Morning.

“The people from Lutselk’e can learn a lot, and that’s how we decided to have the exchange. And now we’re here.”

‘Different kind of relationship’

Bettina Koschade was among the 15 Wakefielders who visited the Dene community last summer, where she fished, camped, swam and learned about plant and wildlife in the territory that’s proposed to become Thaidene Nëné, which means “land of our ancestors.”

Lutselk'e Wakefield exchange

From left to right, Bettina Koschade, Ron Desjarlais and James Marlowe took part in a community exchange between Lutselk’e and Wakefield. (Hallie Cotnam/CBC)

“When you do an exchange, it’s a very different situation than just travelling to a place, because you get to sit around the dinner table together, and you get to see each other in the mornings, you get to have breakfast together,” said Koschade.

“And the conversations you have build a different kind of relationship, and it sort of brings things into perspective in a way that you can’t get from listening to the news and being up with current events.”

Koschade is hosting Ron and Shirley Desjarlais, who hosted her and her daughter in Lutselk’e. Desjarlais believes the exchange is a good way to raise awareness of a “pristine” patch of Canada’s North.

‘We want to protect it’

“Wildlife — we have muskox, moose, caribou. Great fishing. They tell me there’s great fishing down here, but the fish is not as big as we have at home. A lot of clean air, and a lot of space,” he said.

“We’re still fortunate to just grab a cup and drink the water right from the lake. That tells you a lot about … how much we want to protect it.”

The exchange builds on ongoing efforts by Marlowe and others from Lutselk’e to promote the national park reserve, including annual information sessions on Parliament Hill. 

“There’s a reason behind that. The reason is to seek support from southern Canadians to establish the Thaidene Nëné National Park Reserve,” he said.

After an activity-packed visit including museums and sightseeing in the National Capital Region, the visitors return home to Lutselk’e on Friday.

Lutselk'e Wakefield exchange

Wakefield residents visited Lutselk’e last summer for the first part of the community exchange. (Supplied)

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