The federal government has delayed the signing of an agreement turning part of the Dehcho into a National Wildlife Area.

The Edéhzhíe Establishment Agreement, between the Dehcho First Nations and Canada, will turn 14,200 square kilometres of wetland and boreal forest into a protected area under the Canada Wildlife Act.

Edéhzhíe, including the Horn Plateau, is identified as an area of “great ecological and cultural significance.” The zone in question covers land and water north of Fort Simpson, Jean Marie River, and Fort Providence.

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National Wildlife Area status offers long-term protection from most human activities except those deemed “compatible with conservation.” Traditional activities reportedly will not be affected.

A signing ceremony for the agreement had been planned for September 28. However, this week the Dehcho First Nations were informed Catherine McKenna, the federal environment minister, needed to postpone the event.

In an email to interested parties, the Dehcho First Nations said the postponement was unfortunate and it would work with the federal government to reschedule the ceremony.

Contacted by Cabin Radio, the minister’s office said: “We are rescheduling as soon as possible.”

Caroline Thériault, press secretary for McKenna’s office, added by email: “The minister is committed to furthering the important conservation work being done in partnership with the Dehcho First Nations, and was very much looking forward to her trip to the Northwest Territories.

“Regrettably, she has had to postpone the trip until later this fall in order to assist with unanticipated government work.”

Background: Edéhzhíe fact sheet

The campaign to grant Edéhzhíe protection has lasted for almost three decades. In 2010, the Dehcho First Nations and Tłįchǫ Government jointly requested the establishment of Edéhzhíe as a National Wildlife Area.

Work to finalize the forthcoming agreement began in 2016 and the region became a protected area under Dehcho law at this year’s annual assembly.