A stretch of land and water bigger than Toronto – vital to the history, culture, and environment of the Tłı̨chǫ people – is on track to become a protected area.
Dınàgà Wek’èhodì, which is 790 square kilometres in size (Toronto's city limits encompass 630 sq km), lies south-east of Behchokǫ̀. Phoebe Rabesca, a Tłı̨chǫ Government lands administration officer, said it might receive protection as soon as next year.
Rabesca laid out a vision for the area, which includes some of Great Slave Lake's northern shoreline alongside nearby islands and water, at this week's Yellowknife Geoscience Forum.
In an email, the NWT's Department of Environment and Natural Resources (ENR) agreed that progress was being made toward protecting the area. ENR said the conclusion of negotiations was not expected until "late 2020."
A map prepared by the Tłı̨chǫ Government shows the proposed protected area.
Several groups have ties to the proposed protected area. A 2016 report listed those groups as the Tłįchǫ communities, Yellowknives Dene, Northwest Territory Métis Nation, and the North Slave Métis Alliance.
The area is biologically important, Rabesca said, stating it supports more than one percent of Canada's national migratory bird population. Researchers have found waterfowl, waterbirds, raptors, and songbirds in Dınàgà Wek’èhodì that breed, rear their young, and stop over on migratory routes. Nine species at risk are found there, including wood bison, woodland caribou, and the peregrine falcon.
Rabesca said the area is also a place of deep historical and spiritual meaning. Birth and burial sites exist there, Tłı̨chǫ members have grown up there, and the 2016 report found it to be a source of "spiritual power, personal experience, and cultural stories." The report found "extensive traditional use" of the area by people hunting for fish and game.
"On all of those islands, there are places where we spent time and worked with our relatives. There are many old campsites on them," resident Harry Apples is quoted as telling a 2015 study. "In the fall time, people lived on those islands to gather fish. The land is beautiful."
'This is very important'
Several Elders recalled growing up in camps like Blackduck and Enodaa in the protected area.
"We went hunting for moose, we went fishing every day. Enodaa used to have 20 houses. This is very important," Elder Moise Rabesca is quoted as saying in the 2016 report.
The same report said turning Dinàgà Wek'èhodì into a protected area would allow locals to keep harvesting country foods, trapping, and producing arts and crafts. The working group specifically recommended the harvesting rights of Indigenous peoples, including hunting and trapping, be respected when the area is protected.
The area could also provide employment in the tourism industry, the report stated.
The push to protect the area came from the Elders, Rabesca said, discussing work that has been ongoing for more than a decade. She said Elders felt it was important to include young people, who have been involved in talks about the area's importance.
With the September signing of an agreement to create the Sahtu's Ts’udé Nilįné Tuyeta protected area, and the establishment of the Thaidene Nëné park under federal, territorial, and Dene law, 17.3 percent of the NWT's land and freshwater is now said by the territory to enjoy some form of conservation measure. At the moment, Dınàgà Wek’èhodì would add 0.1 percent to that figure, ENR said.
Meanwhile, another protected area is set to finalized and celebrated in Fort Good Hope next week.
The NWT government and Fort Good Hope's K’asho Got’ı̨nę leaders will gather on November 26 to celebrate the establishment of Ts’udé Nilįné Tuyeta, a territorial protected area.
Ts’udé Nilįné Tuyeta covers 10,050 sq km – roughly equivalent in size to Cape Breton Island – and lies west of the Mackenzie River and Fort Good Hope.
Corrections: November 25, 2019 – 16:38 MT. The initial version of this article misstated two figures associated with the creation of Dinàgà Wek'èhodì. We said 17.3 percent of the NWT's land and freshwater would enjoy protection if this protected area is created, but should have clarified that this figure refers to the entire NWT conservation network, which includes several types of conservation – protected areas among them.
Dinàgà Wek'èhodì would add 0.1 percent to that 17.3-percent figure, not 1.4 percent as we reported.
Further, the Tłı̨chǫ Government does not ultimately hope Dinàgà Wek'èhodì becomes a territorial park, as this article earlier stated. (The source for this statement was a 2016 Tłı̨chǫ Government article that conflates territorial parks and territorial protected areas, which are in fact governed by different legislation. We made the same mistake.)