The Dehcho First Nations and federal government have signed a document recognizing Canada’s first Indigenous protected area – Edéhzhíe, in the NWT’s Dehcho.

The Edéhzhíe Establishment Agreement turns 14,200 square kilometres of wetland and boreal forest into a protected area.

Edéhzhíe, including the Horn Plateau, is identified as an area of “great ecological and cultural significance.” The zone in question covers land and water north of Fort Simpson, Jean Marie River, and Fort Providence.

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Catherine McKenna, the federal environment minister, joined Dehcho First Nations Grand Chief Gladys Norwegian to sign the Edéhzhíe protected area into being at a ceremony in Fort Providence on Thursday.

McKenna said Edéhzhíe would be “the first of many” such Indigenous protected areas across Canada.

Norwegian called the protected area “an example of how the Dehcho would like to move forward with Canada,” the CBC reported.

Dehcho guardians

Thursday’s ceremony sees Ottawa formally acknowledge the Dehcho First Nations’ earlier decision to designate Edéhzhíe an Indigenous protected area – safeguarding water, biodiversity and wildlife habitat, with Dehcho-led stewardship and monitoring.

The Dehcho K’éhodi Stewardship Program will create “Dehcho guardians” responsible for much of the related monitoring and management.

Environment and Climate Change Canada now commits to establishing the area as a National Wildlife Area by 2020, which will afford Edéhzhíe long-term protection from most human activities except those deemed “compatible with conservation.” Traditional activities reportedly will not be affected.

The campaign to grant Edéhzhíe protection lasted for almost three decades. In 2010, the Dehcho First Nations and Tłįchǫ Government jointly requested the establishment of Edéhzhíe as a National Wildlife Area.

Work to finalize an agreement began in 2016 and the region became a protected area under Dehcho law at this year’s annual assembly.