Dehcho First Nations leader Herb Norwegian has received a $10,000 prize for his work to protect the region's boreal forests, wetlands, and watersheds.
World Wildlife Fund Canada and the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society gave Norwegian the 2018 Glen Davis Conservation Leadership Prize for his contribution to the Dehcho Land Use Plan.
Award organizers say Norwegian had a "critical role" in expanding the Nahanni National Park Reserve to six times its original size – a move they say permanently protected more than 30,000 square kilometres of Dehcho land.
Norwegian is also credited with work on maps that became blueprints for a land use plan protecting a further 100,000 square kilometres of wilderness.
"Conserving our land is something that I’ve put my heart into right from day one when I got into public life," said Grand Chief Norwegian in prepared remarks released last week.
"I’m honoured to work for Mother Earth and my people. We hope that within the next year, the Dehcho will make a major contribution to protecting a good part of the Mackenzie Valley through our process.
"And we hope that it’s a strong signal to the rest of Canada, and to the world, that First Nations have always been the driving force behind land protection."
The prize rewards individuals who play a key role in protecting Canadian ecosystems and species. Philanthropist Glen Davis, for whom it is named, was a prominent supporter of WWF-Canada and CPAWS until his murder in 2007.
"Everyone talks about bringing together traditional knowledge with western science, but under Grand Chief Herb Norwegian’s leadership the Dehcho have actually done that through their land-use plan, translating lived experience of the land into more than 50,000 digitalized data points," said Monte Hummel, president emeritus of WWF-Canada.
"Grand Chief Norwegian is a Canadian visionary for nature and the Dehcho people, enduring delays for nearly 20 years from the Canadian government in his attempts to protect 50 percent of the Dehcho First Nations territory.
"He is responsible for deploying conservation action on the ground at the scale of achievement that inspired the life of Glen Davis."
Norwegian has a complex history as a leaders in the Dehcho region.
A former vice-president of the Dene Nation and chief of the Liidlii Kue First Nation, he was temporarily ousted as grand chief in 2008 after admitting he assaulted a woman.
Norwegian reportedly served one day in jail, alongside 50 hours of community service and six months of probation, for that offence.
He returned to the post of grand chief in 2012, which comes with responsibility for 11 Dehcho communities.