Mealy Meadows, One Giant Leap for Parks Canada

Last week a new national park officially came into being. It is part of a decades old endeavour by Parks Canada to ensure a part of each of the distinct ecosystems in Canada in preserved and protected through the creation of a park. Most of the parks created by this initiative have been in northern parts of the country and one of the greatest stumbling blocks to their creations has related to the place of people in the parks.
The commercialization of the mountain parks has served as the example of what conservationists, environmentalists, and parks planners want to avoid. There are too many people in those parks and while their presence pays for a good portion of the upkeep of the entire system, it is hard to sell wilderness or expound its virtues when the best known parks are now better known for crowds and asphalt than the ecosystems they protect. These people, the tourist, the non-indigenous inhabitants of an ecosystem are a problem but after over 125 years of tourism to parks they are hard to shake.
However, over the second half the twentieth century the place of Native groups in the ecosystems of parks has risen to central importance in negotiating the creation of new parks and re-negotiating land use in established parks. The place of traditional subsistence use of the resources of an ecosystem, even a protected ecosystem, is part of the ongoing post-colonial struggle by First Nations groups across the country for recognition of cultural rights and needs. Slowly, Parks Canada and the general public have come to accept the claim these groups have to continued access to parks and the resources contained within their boundaries. There is an entire sub-section of Canadian environmental history devoted to the negotiation of this tricky relationship.
So what is the big deal about Mealy Meadows, the newest national park in a remote part of Labrador? There is leave-by date for the people already living there and regardless of whether they are Native, Inuit, or non-Native, their rights to continue using the resources inside the park for substance purposes is protected. As Alan MacEachern is quoted as saying in an article on the front page the Globe and Mail today “there’s kind of an increasing grudging acceptance that these area are not just wilderness.” That grudging acceptance it that people are part of ecosystems. And coming from Parks Canada, the recognition of that is huge.
It must be noted that only certain people are being accepted as part of an ecosystem. Tourists still are not okay. Neither are the permanent residents of the towns and service centres that provide those tourists with their basic necessities. Recognizing people are, even in the limited capacity of the small population already living in Mealy Meadows, part of the ecosystem allows us to start re-evaluating how we understand the human relationship with the environment. People, regardless of whether they are subsistence hunters or tourists or farmers or urbanites, are part of an ecosystem. It has taken decades for Parks Canada take this first step, to not remove residents from a park and restrict or end land and resource use. But it is only the first step. Parks and public need to expand the understanding of the kind people who are acceptable in an ecosystem to include all people. This reevaluation will allow for tangible progress in how we interact with the environment. There needs to be further recognition that regardless of where we live or how we use nature, we, humans, are part of ecosystems and not above them.
Hopefully, the first step taken by Parks Canada towards recognizing the place of the small population in Mealy Meadows gets people to start thinking harder about their place in the specific ecosystems they live in, play in, and value as worth protecting.

About Lauren Wheeler

A reformed history phd student working as a public historian and looking for connections between museums and environmental history from the often freezing reaches of Canada (aka Edmonton).
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