At a ceremony in Dettah on Friday, the Yellowknives Dene First Nation and Canadian government signed the final agreement for Thaidene Nëné National Park Reserve “for future generations.”
The signing completed the requirements for the establishment of Canada’s newest national park reserve in the Northwest Territories, which recently celebrated its one-year anniversary.
“It means that we have something to look forward to for the future of our kids, for our grandkids, to ensure that they have something to fall back on in future – both economically and spiritually,” Dettah Chief Edward Sangris told Cabin Radio.
“It’s significant that the park is protected because of so many things going on, climate change. We have to look after the water and everything else.”
Thaidene Nëné, meaning Land of Our Ancestors in Dënesųłı̨né Yati, is approximately 23,376 square kilometres of protected land northeast of Łútsëlk’é on the East Arm of Great Slave Lake. It encompasses boreal forest, tundra, and a number of water bodies, and is home to many types of wildlife.
Thaidene Nëné includes a national park reserve, territorially protected area, and wildlife conservation area. They are jointly protected by Indigenous, territorial, and federal governments. Indigenous rights to hunt, trap, fish and carry out other activities in the area are protected.
Friday’s signing follows decades of negotiations and planning. The two other Akaitcho First Nations – the Deninu Kųę́ First Nation and the Łútsël K’é Dene First Nation – and the Northwest Territory Métis Nation, signed agreements for Thaidene Nëné in Fort Resolution and Łútsëlk’é in August 2019.
Shortly before last year’s signing, however, the Métis and Yellowknives Dene expressed concern about whether their traditional rights to use the water and land, including harvesting, would be protected.
“I think the Yellowknives Dene were the last group to sign because we wanted to feel comfortable in the way that we were going to be partners,” Sangris explained.
An aerial view of the East Arm of Great Slave Lake, outside Łútsëlk’é. Emily Blake/Cabin Radio
Following discussions on these issues, Sangris said First Nation Elders and councillors felt protecting the land and water was important for future generations.
“I cannot stress enough how important the land is to the Dene,” he said, highlighting spirituality, culture and subsistence. “That’s important that we do have some sort of mechanism in place to protect the land, such as the park.”
Sangris and Ndilǫ Chief Ernest Betsina signed the final documents on Friday in front of staff, Elders, councillors, and reporters.
Jonathan Wilkinson, Canada’s minister of environment and climate change, attended by video from Vancouver. NWT MP Michael McLeod signed as a witness to Wilkinson.
“The establishment of the national park in the Akaitcho territory demonstrates our ability to plan ahead for our future generations and the generations of all Canadians,” Betsina told those gathered. “It will inspire hope and reverence for life, nature, and the environment.
“It’s hoped that the people who visit this park respect our treaty rights, the water, the forest, and the animals, while we learn about our traditions and culture, which is one of our land and our Creator.”
The final agreement ensures the Yellowknives Dene First Nation will be part of a regional management board for Thaidene Nëné. The agreement includes commitments to training and employment and opportunities for future contracting.
Parks Canada said it will provide support to the First Nation to develop a tourism and boat access route strategy for the national park reserve.
“The Government of Canada is committed to working with Indigenous and territorial governments to expand Canada’s network of protected and conserved areas and to contribute to the recovery of species at risk, all while helping to advance reconciliation with Indigenous peoples,” minister Wilkinson said.
Chief Ernest Betsina and Michael McLeod fist-bump after signing, rather than shake hands, due to Covid-19. Emily Blake/Cabin Radio
“Canada is home to some of the world’s last remaining wildlands. It is precisely because of the stewardship of Indigenous peoples over the millennia that we have this little legacy, one that we must all recommit ourselves to passing on to future generations.”
In June 2020, the Łutsël K’é Dene First Nation was one of 10 Indigenous communities around the world to be awarded the 2020 Equator Prize by the United Nations for its efforts in establishing the park reserve.