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Łutselk’e Dene approve establishment of Thaidene Nene

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Łutselk’e Dene First Nation members have approved the establishment of Thaidene Nene, a protected area in the middle of Łutselk’e Denesoline territory.

The members voted 88 percent in favour during an all-member referendum on Monday, which followed a January show-of-hands unanimous ratification during a special assembly.

The vote means Łutselk’e’s chief and council will now sign an establishment agreement with the federal and territorial governments to permanently protect the land under Denesoline, federal, and territorial law.

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Thaidene Nene was first proposed 50 years ago. A spokesperson for Parks Canada’s Protected Areas Establishment Branch said there were many reasons the plan has taken decades to come to fruition: consultation agreements with the Akaitcho, Tłı̨chǫ, and Métis peoples need to be fulfilled, land claims need to be settled, and revisions to the Canada National Parks Act still need to pass three readings in the House and Senate.

The Łutselk’e Denesoline have designated the entirety of Thaidene Nene – all 26,376 square kilometres of it – a protected area under their laws.

Of that, 14,305 km will become a national park reserve co-created and co-managed by the First Nation (LKDFN for short) and Parks Canada.

Another adjoining 12,071 km will become a territorial protected area, which LKDFN will also manage in conjunction with the territorial government.

Parks Canada said the co-management aspect of the protected area is "a new model" in that First Nations and different levels of government will work together to plan, manage, and operate Thaidene Nene.

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Nearly 80 new jobs

Thaidene Nene is expected to create 18 new management and operations jobs in Łutselk’e, 10 of which will be year-round.

Indirectly, tourism to the area is forecast to generate another 50 jobs: 20 year-round and 30 seasonal.

LKDFN and the territorial and federal governments have committed to spending between $4 million and $7 million per year on management and capital projects, both within the town and the protected areas.

Steven Nitah, LKDFN's negotiator, said capital projects may include infrastructure, such as an administration building and an interpretive centre, and equipment like snowmobiles and boats.

Sacred territory

The Łutselk’e Denesoline say their traditional territory is sacred.

“It is where the ancestors of the Łutselk’e Denesoline laid down the sacred, ethical, and practical foundations of the Denesoline way of life,” stated a news release issued by the First Nation, which goes on to say large swaths of boreal habitat barren-ground caribou call home will now be protected forever.

LKDFN is currently working on a caribou management plan with the Government of the Northwest Territories.

“We are now moving forward as a community to ensure that our way of life will thrive into the future,” said Chief Darryl Marlowe in the statement.

“We will exercise our responsibility to take care of this land and protect the way of life of our people, and work together with our government partners on nation-to-nation basis to welcome visitors to our lands.”

'Huge step forward'

Nitah said the First Nation is happy with the agreement.

"For the first time ... we've articulated what [the treaty relationship] means in a geographic space," he explained, saying voter turnout was around 50 percent on Monday.

"It is a huge step forward."

He said the First Nation has done its part, and is now waiting for the territorial and federal governments to put legislation in place and sign the establishment agreement.