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Lifetime park passes granted to Stoney Nakoda members
An agreement with Parks Canada that granted Stoney Nakoda member’s lifetime access to the Banff National Park is better late than never, says Bearspaw First Nation Chief Darcy Dixon.
The park pass agreement, unveiled on Sept. 10, comes after two years of negotiating a memorandum of understanding between the Stoney Nakoda, which comprises Bearspaw, Chiniki and Wesley First Nations, and Parks Canada.
“This goes to show that other First Nations can negotiate and express their traditions,” said Dixon, who would have liked to have seen the change sooner. “But we hope this opens the door for our fellow people.”
Before the park passes were made available, Stoney Nakoda members had to pay to enter the park. Elders considered the Eastern Slopes area to be a part of their home, Dixon says.
“Our parents, grandparents and the old people were always confused because they thought it was their right to access those lands for free,” he said. “Now we can pick our medicines and do our traditional walk-abouts without having to look over our shoulders from the fear that we may be ticketed by park wardens.”
A ceremony celebrating the Stoney Nakoda lifetime park pass was held at the Banff Indian Grounds, which borders the Banff townsite.
Wild Rose MP Blake Richards attended the ceremony on behalf of Environment Minister Peter Kent. Richards presented the first lifetime passes to Dixon, Chiniki Chief Bruce LaBelle and Wesley Chief Ernest Wesley.
“This is a matter of Parks Canada recognizing that it was time to engage First Nations and a good example of a relationship that promotes awareness of a strong history and culture,” Richards said. “There has been a big effort in the last few years to include this history in the parks experience.”
The park passes will be available to Stoney Nakoda members through their band office and can be obtained by anyone 18 years or older. Family passes are also available.
“Each Nation has been directed to pick up the passes and everyone seems happy,” Dixon said.
“A lot of people sell their traditional beadwork in the park and so those younger people will also be happy that they don’t have to pay to sell their work.”
The memorandum of understanding also includes a family camp event, which has been held at the Banff Indian Grounds for the past two summers, and an Aboriginal artist’s contribution in the rejuvenation of the Cave and Basin National Historic Site. In 2010 Stoney Nakoda members formed a steering committee to decide what acceptable terms should be incorporated in the memorandum — a document that formalized Parks Canada and Stoney Nakoda’s mutual interests.
“In the past the people would be in the park collecting for spiritual and medicinal purposes and there was no way to identify that,” Parks Canada communication officer Mark Merchant said.
Jasper National Park and Riding Mountain National Park (Manitoba) both have similar partnerships with nearby First Nations communities.
Photo caption: (From left) First Nations Chiefs Ernest Wesley (Wesley), Darcy Dixon (Bearspaw) and Bruce Labelle (Chiniki) with MP Blake Richards and the new Stoney Nakoda First Nation Entry Pass.
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