The federal minister of environment and climate change is in the Northwest Territories today to sign a deal for the first Indigenous-protected national wildlife area in Canada.
Catherine McKenna will sign the agreement with the Dehcho First Nations to officially protect the Edehzhie area.
Edehzhie, a plateau that rises out of the Mackenzie Valley to the west of Great Slave Lake, covers 25,000 square kilometres of land.
The area has been a spiritual gathering and hunting place in the Dehcho since time immemorial.
Dene elder Jonas Antoine has referred to it as the “breadbasket” of the Dehcho people.
Now, after 16 years of negotiations, a portion of Edehzhie will be federally protected as a national wildlife area.
In 2002, the Dehcho and Tlicho asked the federal government to prohibit any new development in the Edehzhie area. It agreed, but only until 2010.
That year, against the wishes of the Dehcho people, the federal government opened up the mineral-rich subsurface of the Edehzhie to development.
Indigenous leaders in the territory were outraged.
In 2011, then Dehcho Grand Chief Sam Gargan told CBC News that any agreement that doesn’t include the protection of what’s below ground is “a mockery.”
The Dehcho took the federal government to court over the decision and won.
In the 2012 decision, a judge said the government’s decision to terminate subsurface protection without consulting the Dehcho was “clearly questionable.”
A new deal
In response, the federal government put forth a new plan.
It saw the original 25,000-square-kilometre protected area cut in half, but the remaining 14,000 square kilometres would be given full surface and subsurface protection.
Any areas containing large mineral deposits were taken out of the deal.
Now, after years of back and forth, the Dehcho First Nations and the federal government have come to an agreement.
The 14,000-square-kilometre area will be co-managed by three groups:
- An appointed Edehzhie management board.
- The Dehcho Guardians.
- The Canadian Wildlife Service.
A spokesperson for Environment and Climate Change Canada said this is the first Indigenous protected national wildlife area in the country.
McKenna and Dehcho Grand Chief Gladys Norwegian will sign the official agreement later on Thursday in Fort Providence, N.W.T.