Elders were the celebrities at Tuesday’s signing of an agreement which protects 10,000 square kilometres of Sahtu land from oil, gas, and mining interests.
K’asho Got’ine Chief Daniel Masuzumi, speaking at a celebration of the newly created Ts’udé Nilįné Tuyeta protected area, said Elders "always wanted Tuyeta to be protected ... for sacred areas, for history."
Masuzumi said he was “at a loss for words” as he addressed a crowd of Elders, children, and other community members in Fort Good Hope.
Leaders of the K’asho Got’ine and NWT government put pens to paper to bring the land under protection at the ceremony. The Fort Good Hope Drummers performed a piece entitled the Ramparts Song, as the Sahtu's newest protected area encompasses the Ramparts River and Wetlands.
The area is about a third of the size of Vancouver Island. It has been used by the people of the region for generations and is an important wetland habitat for migratory birds.
Ts’udé Nilįné Tuyeta, west of Fort Good Hope, is bordered by the Gwich'in Settlement Area to the west and the Mackenzie River to the east. Those creating the area are the K'asho Got'ine of Fort Good Hope (including the local Yamoga Land Corporation), the Fort Good Hope Métis Nation Local #54 Land Corporation, the Fort Good Hope Dene Band, and the NWT government.
Ahead of Tuesday's ceremony, Masuzumi told Cabin Radio the establishment of the area is a positive step.
"My own personal thought is: finally, we have some control as to how we want to protect this area and how we want to work in the area," the chief said. "The doors are open now so we can proceed in how we want to protect the area."
Masuzumi said he has studied water and ducks in the region as well as wildfire burn areas. He said parts are open while others are thick with growth and trees. When he was working there, Masuzumi said he saw caribou and moose "all the time."
Asked what the land means for the people of Fort Good Hope, Masuzumi said: "For them, it's history and the richness of the land that's there."
Species at risk who call Ts’udé Nilįné Tuyeta home include the grizzly bear, boreal woodland caribou and mountain caribou, as well as the peregrine falcon and wolverine.
Ts’udé Nilįné Tuyeta, a protected area west of Fort Good Hope, is an ecologically diverse wetland with cultural importance to the K'asho Got'ine. Joanna Wilson/ENR
Aurora over Ts’udé Nilįné Tuyeta. Pat Kane/Pat Kane Photo
The Ramparts – within the protected area boundaries – forms a biologically diverse wetland and "internationally significant area" for migratory birds, said Michelle Swallow, who manages conservation, assessment, and monitoring for the NWT's Department of Environment and Natural Resources (ENR).
Surveys estimate more than one percent of Canada's Pacific loons are found in the area. Greater and lesser scaup, and surf and whitewinged scoters, nest there.
In addition to the ecological importance, the K’asho Got’ine hunt, fish, and trap on the land.
"It was identified really early on by Elders in Fort Good Hope that it's an important area for protection," Swallow said. "Now that it's protected through our new Protected Areas Act, they'll see their traditional values, Indigenous laws, and knowledge systems reflected in future management of the area."
In the 1993 Sahtú Dene and Métis Comprehensive Claim, the area called the Ramparts was identified as a Sahtu heritage site. By 2006, Ts’udé Nilįné Tuyeta became a candidate protected area under the NWT's protected areas strategy.
A GNWT map of the protected area.
With devolution in 2014, public lands in the territory came under territorial government control. Protection of areas like Tuyeta was placed on hold so a northern approach to protected areas could be established. Legislation providing that northern approach recently came into force.
Finalization of the agreement was delayed this summer as the Yamoga Land Corporation had yet to sign on.
After Tuesday's celebration, the K’asho Got’ine and the NWT will begin managing the area, which includes creating a management plan and management board. The two were successful in receiving $6.2 million from the Canadian Nature Fund, ENR communications and planning specialist Joslyn Oosenbrug stated, which will support management and monitoring of the area over five years.
An agreement for the establishment of Ts’udé Nilįné Tuyeta was signed in September. Joanna Wilson/ENR
Trails, cabins – for conducting patrols, research, and monitoring – and a visitor space are to be built.
Regulations governing the protected area remain under development by the NWT government. Indigenous and treaty rights in the area will be recognized and respected, the territory has stated.