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First Nation wins $100,000 prize
Lutsel K'e Dene honoured for effort to save traditional land

Paul Bickford
Northern News Services
Published Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Lutsel K'e Dene First Nation (LKDFN) has been named among the first recipients of a new big-money prize.

NNSL photo/graphic

In Vancouver on Dec. 13, representatives of Lutsel K'e Dene First Nation (LKDFN) received the Arctic Inspiration Prize for its Thaidene Nene Initiative. The presentation ceremony included, left to right, Martin Fortier, executive director of the Arctic Inspiration Prize; Steven Nitah, the First Nation's chief negotiator on the Thaidene Nene Initiative; Gloria Enzoe, the program manager for the Thaidene Nene Initiative; negotiator Stephen Ellis; and LKDFN Councillor Stephanie Poole. - photo courtesy of Lutsel K'e Dene First Nation

It was one of four organizations to receive a share of the inaugural $1-million Arctic Inspiration Prize at a Dec. 13 ceremony in Vancouver.

The First Nation received $100,000 for its Thaidene Nene Initiative to help with the stewardship, protection and co-management of a proposed 33,000-square-kilometre national park reserve on its traditional land.

"Certainly myself and the rest of the community were very excited, and we certainly saw it as a bit of a validation for the community's vision," said Stephen Ellis, a negotiator with LKDFN. "The community has been advancing an initiative to protect important cultural and environmental sites in its homeland for a long time and they want to translate those conservation measures into fostering a meaningful local sustainable economy."

Ellis said the $100,000 prize is important, but noted that even more important is the increased profile, validation and media exposure for the Thaidene Nene Initiative that goes along with the prize.

"Part of the Thaidene Nene Initiative is the creation of a trust fund, and that trust fund will support the First Nation's and others' efforts to manage, operate and foster a tourism economy based on the area," he said. "The objective of the First Nation is to raise $30 million."

The $100,000 prize will be the initial seed money for the trust fund.

"It's hoped that the trust fund will be capitalized by a partnership between private and public donors," Ellis said. "This is really the launching off point for the fundraising effort."

For more than 40 years, LKDFN has been advancing the initiative to protect Thaidene Nene, the 'Land of the Ancestors'.

The area includes the dramatic cliffs and islands of the East Arm of Great Slave Lake, the deepest freshwater in North America, the Lockhart River canyons and Tyrrell Falls. The LKDFN is in the final stages of negotiating a park agreement with the federal government.

"With this exciting initiative, Lutsel K'e is uniquely positioned to break the cycle of poverty and dependency that characterizes too many small Canadian Arctic communities," reads a statement from the Arctic Inspiration Prize.

The prize was founded by philanthropic couple Arnold Witzig and Sima Sharifi of Vancouver.

"The motivation behind creating the prize was to recognize excellence and encourage collaboration and teamwork amongst diverse groups in both Canada's North and south," said Witzig, who co-founded with his wife the S. and A. Inspiration Foundation that funds the prize.

Ellis said some people refer to the award as the Nobel Prize of the North, something that will promote and support innovation it the Canadian North.

"I think it's great," he said of the concept of the prize.

Ellis went to Vancouver to pick up the prize on Dec. 13. Also travelling to Vancouver were LKDFN Councillor Stephanie Poole; Gloria Enzoe, program manager for the Thaidene Nene Initiative; and Stephen Nitah, the First Nation's chief negotiator for the Thaidene Nene Initiative.

"They really did it up for the ceremony," Ellis said of the presentation event, noting there were fancy backgrounds, huge pictures and even dry ice and smoke as the recipients came on stage to receive the award in front of a thousand or so people.

The prize was shared among four groups whose projects address pressing issues facing Canada's Arctic and its peoples.

Along with Lutsel K'e Dene First Nation, the prize was awarded to the Arctic Food Network ($360,000), the Nunavut Literacy Council ($300,000) and Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit ($240,000).

"The winning teams have developed comprehensive plans for the benefit of the Canadian Arctic, its inhabitants and therefore Canada as a whole. We look forward to seeing these projects excel further and come to life," said Martin Fortier, executive director of the Arctic Inspiration Prize and of ArcticNet, a network of Canadian researchers in universities and government which voluntarily manages the prize.

It was awarded at ArcticNet's eight annual scientific meeting.

Issues such as human health, literacy, housing, food security and the sustainability of ecosystems and wildlife were priority areas for the Arctic Inspiration Prize's selection committee. That committee is comprised of many distinguished individuals, such as former Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean, singer Susan Aglugark and CBC news anchor Peter Mansbridge.

Ellis said having such a broad-based group say the Thaidene Nene Initiative is good for the North and inspirational to other Northern communities and all Canada.

Lutsel K'e Dene First Nation was nominated for the prize by Tu Nedhe MLA and Health and Social Services Minister Tom Beaulieu.

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