Pushed out of the park
Excellent job not good enough to keep park contract

Richard Gleeson & Derek Neary
Northern News Services

Jean Marie River ( May 26/00) - After seven seasons as caretakers at Sambaa Deh Falls Park, Phil Norwegian and his wife, Mary, have been given their walking papers.

The Norwegians, who were nominated for the NWT Parks and Recreation Association's facility excellence award this year, had one shortcoming -- they were born too far from the park.

Therefore, they can no longer work at Sambaa Deh. This years' contract for managing the park was awarded to the Jean Marie River First Nation, nearby to the west.

The Norwegians, who trap in the winter and run a janitorial business out of Fort Smith, are now managing Queen Elizabeth Park, on the outskirts of Fort Smith.

"We took care of Sambaa Deh park like it was our own for seven seasons, my wife and I," said Norwegian, who was born about 150 kilometres northwest of the park, on the Rabbitskin River.

"Everyone who comes to the park sees that. And RWED didn't give us a chance to bid on this contract or proposal."

RWED's director of Parks and Tourism said there is no official policy for the awarding of such contracts.

"In most places, particularly where there's a lot of commercial interests vying for it, it's just straight contract," said Robin Reilly. "But where it's a very remote park and there's a remote community nearby and that community is trying to get work experience, in the (interest) of helping people get on their feet and get established, those kinds of things happen."

Reilly said the awarding of contracts is up to the regional offices. Apart from Sambaa Deh, only Blackstone Park, near Fort Simpson, is managed by the local band.

Kevin MacLellan of RWED's Deh Cho regional office, which awarded the contract to the Jean Marie River band, said the rules are clear. If the park is on a band's traditional lands, the band gets the right of first refusal on the contract.

"If the band says that they want it, that's the decision, that's the guide," said MacLellan. "There's no ifs or buts about it. It's the band's to say and we comply."

MacLellan said the contract is worth "around $20,000 for the season."

JMR Chief Stanley Sanguez said he had heard the Norwegians were retiring and decided to pursue the contract to employ two JMR band members.

"That's the purpose of me getting that contract, is to employ my people," Sanguez said.

The political decision gives the Norwegians little comfort, as did being asked to train the people the Jean Marie River band is hiring to replace them. They refused the offer.