Skip to main content
Welcome to
super saver spring
offer ends april 20
save over $140
save over 85%
$0.99
per week for 24 weeks
Welcome to
super saver spring
$0.99
per week
for 24 weeks
// //

Guardians of the Edehzhie protected area in the Northwest Territories are trained in the use of wildlife cameras.

The Canadian Press

There was a time last year when the guardians of Edehzhie would head out on the land in the Northwest Territories and worry what their communities might look like when they returned.

That was when COVID-19 started to sweep across Canada, threatening the country’s northern communities, including those around the protected area known as Edehzhie in the Dehcho region of the N.W.T.

Established in 2018 between the Dehcho First Nations and the federal government, Edehzhie is the country’s first Indigenous Protected Area. It covers more than 14,000 square kilometres of land – more than twice the size of Banff National Park.

Story continues below advertisement

Edehzhie is known as the “breadbasket” of the Dehcho region, because of its abundance of wildlife, plants and fresh water.

As part of the agreement between the Dehcho and Canada, eight people were hired as guardians to monitor activities on the land. They are from the four surrounding communities of Fort Providence, Jean Marie River, Fort Simpson and Wrigley.

“They’re essentially our eyes and ears on the ground,” said Ashley Menicoche, one of four Edehzhie community co-ordinators, from her home in Fort Simpson.

As in the rest of the country, the pandemic caused much of the N.W.T. to lock down and strict public-health measures were put in place.

“We were thinking, because you have to be six feet apart, how are you going to do that when you’re sharing a tent and it’s -30 C?” Menicoche said.

The guardians learned to adapt. They stayed connected through satellite phones and other satellite devices while out on the land.

Dahti Tsetso, former director of lands and resources for the First Nations, said she and a guardian would have Zoom meetings from her back deck in Fort Simpson.

Story continues below advertisement

“There’s hundreds of kilometres between us and yet, through Zoom, we’re all able to connect. Funnily enough, because of the pandemic, the ability to create a strong sense of community between everyone was sort of forged through video conferencing,” Tsetso said.

The pandemic also meant Menicoche and her team developed more outdoor, land-based programs with the guardians and surrounding communities.

“We built this foundation during COVID and we’re still able to do things out on the land while the rest of the world was on lockdown,” Menicoche said.

“I was out in the bush last weekend and I just lay some tobacco down and thanked the Creator that we’re still able do this.”

University researchers based in southern Canada who couldn’t travel to the N.W.T. because of isolation requirements also turned to the guardians for help. The team collected water samples for researchers and set up 80 wildlife cameras in Edehzhie.

The guardians program also pairs local youth with each guardian, something Menicoche said ensures traditional knowledge is passed on to the next generation.

Story continues below advertisement

“There’s a lot of knowledge out there that needs to be shared before our elders pass on. And with this program, the youth come to me and tell me how much they’ve learned.”

Menicoche said some of the guardians overcame addictions during the pandemic while spending time on the land.

“To see them work together and overcome their addictions and their challenges out there in Edehzhie was amazing … these guys have built a relationship together that is phenomenal. This job has made then come together as one,” Menicoche said through tears.

“The transformative impact of these programs on our communities and on Canada is really important. And I think it’s really important that Canadians know this story,” Tsetso said.

After seeing how successful the guardians program could be during a pandemic, Menicoche and Tsetso want to see the program grow for future generations.

“If we can get more guardians and more elders to work together, we can make this last a lifetime. We can do some powerful stuff. We can get more guardians to be our protectors of our land and our water,” Menicoche said.

Story continues below advertisement

“It makes me really emotional to try and project how much more meaningful it will become, especially because I have little kids. I really want that for my kids, for other people’s kids,” Tsetso said.

Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies