Members of the K'asho Got'ine hope protecting more than 10,000 square kilometres of the Sahtu will mean jobs flow to the young people of Fort Good Hope.
Eighteen-year-old Kyran Kakfwi came to a celebration of Ts’udé Nilįné Tuyeta, the new protected area, on Tuesday. "I think it sounds good," he said, "putting out lots of work for the young people and doing lots of activities for this winter and stuff. So yeah, it'd be good for the community."
Kakfwi described spending time in what is now Ts’udé Nilįné Tuyeta since he was a baby.
The area, west of Fort Good Hope, is biologically diverse and culturally important. Twenty-five years of work culminated in the signing of an establishment agreement for the protected area two months ago. Signatories include the NWT government, K'asho Got'ine people of Fort Good Hope (including the Yamoga Land Corporation), Fort Good Hope Métis Nation Local #54 Land Corporation, and Fort Good Hope Dene Band.
The K'asho Got'ine envision the area as a place for young people to learn about their culture and history.
Cabin Radio's Lunchtime News: Listen to our special report from Fort Good Hope in the November 27, 2019 edition of the show.
"We've got to share a vision as to how we want to keep the area and protect it, and how we want to monitor the area," said Chief Danny Masuzumi, the community's leader. "As for guardianship, we have to educate them in a way as to how we want to monitor the area for the future."
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources says around $6.2 million will flow to the NWT government and K'asho Got'ine from the federally managed Canada Nature Fund. The money will help fund the establishment, planning, and monitoring of the protected area until 2023. More money will come from the International Boreal Conservation Campaign and the Wyss Foundation, a US-based charity focused on land protection.
"There's going to be employment for guardianship, there's going to be employment for traditional knowledge with the Elders," Masuzumi said.
People who are able to tell stories about the area can also find employment, he added, while there will be work in the bush, "cutting trails, building cabins, and to better monitor the area."
Fort Good Hope's employment indicators are well below the territorial average. The unemployment rate was 22.9 percent in 2016 and the average personal income for residents was $38,744 in 2017, much lower than the territorial average of $62,049.
Chief Danny Masuzumi signs the Ts’udé Nilįné Tuyeta protected area into being. Pat Kane/ENR
Before being elected chief in July, Masuzumi said he spent the past five years studying ducks and water in the now-protected area. He said those studies and their results were shared with students at the Chief T'Selehye School. "Out of 25 students, two of them showed an interest in it. So for me, I have accomplished getting people interested in Tuyeta," he said.
Masuzumi now wants more long-term monitoring "so we can tell a story [about] how the area is changing with the climate."
Turn land over to Indigenous people, says Elder
Protection of the area was not well understood and not welcomed by all community members in Fort Good Hope, said Lucy Jackson, a longtime interpreter from Fort Good Hope.
She told Cabin Radio she was not in agreement with Ts’udé Nilįné Tuyeta's creation.
Jackson wants the land to be turned over to Indigenous peoples as a matter of sovereignty and as part of a broader reckoning regarding treaties and their extinguishment clauses, seen as a means to remove Indigenous title through the settlement of land claims.
Lucy Jackson interprets at Tuesday's celebration. Emelie Peacock/Cabin Radio
"Before we take on any more, releasing our lands all over, we have to ask them to remove these main things that have never been resolved," said Jackson, referring to elements of the treaties. "This is Indigenous country and I'm sure there could have been more talks within the community to see how we could work this out."
In August, the community held a vote to ratify the establishment agreement for the protected area. The outcome was 93 votes in favour and 54 votes against.
"I was the interpreter for the voting and it was in understood very well by the 'yes' and 'no' votes," Jackson said. "I came there on the scene when it was time to vote and I didn't understand how to go ... so I just left it up to the people to vote as they saw fit. And not many people came for that vote."
Edwin Erutse, president of the Yamoga Land Corporation, delayed signing the agreement after that vote, telling the CBC he wished to ensure recently elected leaders were satisfied with the structure of the agreement and the community's role in it. The agreement was eventually signed by all parties in September.
Masuzumi chalked this up to a misunderstanding. "Once we got people to understand what we were trying to accomplish here and they could see the outcome of it, they were happy with that," he said.
Jackson now believes the area needs funding to ensure it can be protected by Indigenous people for generations to come.
"Right now, the little funding that they're using is under reconciliation. It's token money for a few people ... it's not sustainable for the future," she said.
Elders of Fort Good Hope watch as Ts’udé Nilįné Tuyeta becomes a protected area. Emelie Peacock/Cabin Radio
A recent study in the journal Biological Conservation, the Narwhal reports, suggests conservation efforts led by Indigenous peoples have a range of benefits – including some instances where Indigenous-led projects had higher biodiversity.
In a separate study, guardian programs along the BC coast were found to have between a 10:1 and 20:1 return on investment when measuring social, economic, and cultural values.
The NWT government and K'asho Got'ine have still to decide how they will manage Ts’udé Nilįné Tuyeta. A board to oversee the work will be set up and a plan drafted.
Masuzumi said meetings about the future began on Wednesday.