As the crow flies, it would be 3,300 km. For Łutsel K’e’s Florence Catholique, getting to Maine took six flights and 16 hours.

In mid-June, Catholique left her hometown for the town of Bremen to take a weeklong course called Hands-on Bird Science, hosted by the National Audubon Society, to learn about how climate change is affecting birds.

Her goal was to bring what she learned back to her community. In the process she also shared her knowledge with American acquaintances.

In Maine, Catholique met Dr Jeffery Wells, an American conservation biologist and bird expert. Wells and his partner Allison wrote a story about Catholique’s trip for the Natural Resources Council of Maine’s blog.

“Florence’s trip to our state was a small part of her community’s long and complex journey to find multiple avenues to try to achieve protections of [their] lands as well as a prosperous future for the young people of Łutsel K’e,” they wrote.

‘Crucial work’

The Wells’ are talking about Łutsel K’e Dene First Nation’s work to protect Thaidene Nene, a sacred land around the East Arm of Great Slave Lake that’s over 33,500 km in size.

The First Nation envisions a new type of environmentally and culturally protected area, managed by the community using Traditional Knowledge.

Thaidene Nene, which means “Land of the Ancestors,” was proposed as a national park by the government in the late 1960s. When the First Nation came on board in the early 2000s, the plan began to take hold.

“It’s reassuring to be able to celebrate … the incredibly far-reaching and forward-thinking conservation work being led today by Indigenous governments and communities, that will be crucial to ensuring we celebrate the birds we love in another hundred years,” the blog post finished.

In an email to Cabin Radio, Jeffrey added: “Florence shared stories including about the birds and animals of her traditional territory and the connections between the people, birds, fish, other animals, plants, water and natural systems; taught a few words of her language; and of course shared her love of family and community.”

Catholique is now back in the Northwest Territories, exploring funding and partnership opportunities so she can share what she learned with Łutsel K’e’s youth at summer camps and youth conferences.

“What I would like to get out of it here is for the youth to go through the same kind of training,” she said, “identifying the birds by song or by sight, being able to do all of the other things like branding [to monitor migration routes], and looking at different kinds of [climate] changes that have been happening.

Catholique added she wants to invite Elders to share their Traditional Knowledge with the younger generation.

“It is vital that we know and are able to assist the wellbeing of the birds,” she said.