Skip to main content

A vast region of the Northwest Territories that local Indigenous people call their “breadbasket” because of the abundance of wildlife has been declared permanently off limits to resource development, eight years after the federal government tried to open it to mining.

Wrigley

Whatj

Yellowknife

EDÉHZHÍE DEHCHO

PROTECTED AREA

AND NATIONAL

WILDLIFE AREA

Fort

Providence

Hay

River

NORTHWEST TERRITORIES

Sambaa K’e

Enterprise

B.C.

ALBERTA

TRISH McALASTER / THE GLOBE AND MAIL

SOURCE: ENVIRONMENT AND CLIMATE CHANGE CANADA

Wrigley

Whatj

Rae

Edzo

EDÉHZHÍE DEHCHO

PROTECTED AREA

AND NATIONAL

WILDLIFE AREA

Yellowknife

Jean

Marie

River

Fort

Providence

Nahanni

Butte

Hay

River

NORTHWEST TERRITORIES

Kakisa

Sambaa K’e

Enterprise

B.C.

ALBERTA

TRISH McALASTER / THE GLOBE AND MAIL

SOURCE: ENVIRONMENT AND CLIMATE CHANGE CANADA

Wrigley

Whatj

Rae

Edzo

EDÉHZHÍE DEHCHO

PROTECTED AREA

AND NATIONAL

WILDLIFE AREA

Yellowknife

Detah

Fort Simpson

Jean Marie River

Nahanni

Butte

Fort Providence

Fort Resolution

Kakisa

Hay River

NORTHWEST TERRITORIES

Sambaa K’e

Enterprise

B.C.

ALBERTA

TRISH McALASTER / THE GLOBE AND MAIL

SOURCE: ENVIRONMENT AND CLIMATE CHANGE CANADA

The Edéhzhíe, a 14,250-square-kilometre plateau west of Great Slave Lake, was declared an Indigenous Protected Area in Fort Providence, NWT, on Thursday afternoon. Federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna and leaders of the Dehcho First Nations that call the region home attended the ceremony.

Covering a territory twice the size of Banff National Park, the Edéhzhíe is a blend of boreal forests and wetlands populated with caribou, moose, wolves, fish and other wildlife. It has been a place of cultural and spiritual significance for Indigenous people for generations, and likely for millennia.

Story continues below advertisement

Indigenous Protected Areas are closed to development and managed with the participation of local Indigenous people. The new area is a partnership between the Dehcho – a coalition of Dene and Métis people – and the federal government. It will be managed by a board of directors, a local Indigenous conservation group known as the Dehcho K’ehodi guardians, and the Canadian Wildlife Service.

“We are proud to be working with the Dehcho First Nations to protect a very special place in Canada,” Ms. McKenna said. "By protecting more of nature, we are ensuring a healthier and more prosperous future for our kids and grandkids.”

It is the first Indigenous protected area to be announced since Ottawa included $1.3-billion for conservation in the budget released last winter. And it takes Canada another short step toward fulfilling its international commitment to preserve 17 per cent of all lands and inland waters by 2020.

But eight years ago, a different story appeared to be unfolding. Negotiations on protecting the area had begun in 1998. In 2002, the federal government agreed to prohibit development for the next eight years. But in 2010, as the Dehcho waited for the Edéhzhíe to receive a final designation as a protected area, the former Conservative government paid for an assessment of below-ground resources and opened it up to mineral exploration.

The Dehcho took the government to court. In 2012, a judge ruled that the government should not have allowed subsurface exploration without consultation, and Ottawa returned to the talks.

The protected area had been envisioned at 25,000 square kilometres, but Dahti Tsetso, resource management co-ordinator for the Dehcho First Nations and director of the Dehcho K’ehodi Stewardship and Guardians Program, says there is consensus around the current boundary.

“It’s been a long time coming,” Ms. Tsetso said of the new protected area. “It will give us some capacity to start addressing the goals of our communities and approaching protection in ways that make sense to them, that helps our communities approach stewardship in a meaningful way.”

Story continues below advertisement

Dehcho elders have always said the land was too important for cultural reasons and for harvesting animals to be degraded by mining and other resource development, Ms. Tsetso said.

The guardians program was launched in 2016 to help protect it. The guardians monitor the land, mentor younger generations about how to use it wisely, record observations, and could eventually help with enforcement, Ms. Tsetso said. But much of the management planning has yet to be done, so their exact role has yet to be determined, she said.

Another issue is how much of the Edéhzhíe will be open to people who are not part of the Dehcho communities. Tourism is being discussed, Ms. Tsetso said, but rules for that will be part of a management plan that is still being formulated.

Valerie Courtois, director of the Indigenous Leadership Initiative, a conservation organization, said the Northwest Territories needs development.

“But this is development of another kind,” she said. The creation of the Edéhzhíe Indigenous Protected Area is the expression of some important values that could become opportunities such as ecotourism or guardian jobs, she said.

“As Indigenous peoples,” she said, “we tend to approach land in a way that we ask the question ‘what is going to allow us to continue to be who we are?’ rather than looking at the resources and saying ‘Well, we’re got to leave ourselves open.’”

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Comments

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:

  • All comments will be reviewed by one or more moderators before being posted to the site. This should only take a few moments.
  • 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

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed. Commenters who repeatedly violate community guidelines may be suspended, causing them to temporarily lose their ability to engage with comments.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

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.
Cannabis pro newsletter