Elders and community members gathered in Fort Good Hope Tuesday to celebrate the permanent protection of more than 10,000 kilometres of sacred land.
Ts’ude Niline Tuyeta, the territory’s newest protected area, is a nearby wetland home to several species at risk — grizzlies, northern mountain and boreal woodland caribou, short-eared owls — and migratory birds that settle in the area. Ducks, geese and loons also take advantage of the wetlands to nest and rear their broods.
The region has also been a key Sahtu Dene and Metis harvesting area for generations.
As a protected site, the area was first identified for its cultural significance in the Sahtu Dene and Metis Comprehensive Claim.
Negotiator Stephen Kakfwi said Elders reiterated its importance as they took note of the possible impact of resource development in the early 2000s.
“We need to assure ourselves our great grandchildren will have a place they can go. If there’s a shortage of food and living becomes difficult, they need a bank,” he said.
He added that in addition to the area’s ecosystem, families hold particularly strong ancestral ties to the region.
Nearly two decades have passed. Negotiations gained speed roughly a year-and-a-half ago.
As part of the negotiating team behind the protected area, Kakfwi saw an opportunity to work with the federal government’s goal of protecting 17 per cent of the country’s land and water.
The team also prioritized developing a guardian’s program as part of the package. Despite some confusion between various leadership positions on how community briefings developed and resulting delays, Kakfwi said he was ultimately happy with the final product.
Finally, in August, the Yamoga Land Corporation, Northwest Territories government, the Fort Good Hope Métis Land Corporation #54, and the Fort Good Hope Dene Band agreed on a plan for the area.
Kakfwi said there will be “a big rush” to spend over $1 million allocated to a guardians program before the end of March. He said these investments could have been made as early as this past September, and would include hiring and training, buying equipment, and building cabins.
He said young people in Fort Good Hope facing few employment opportunities bore the cost of these delays.
“I felt badly for all these young people that we had trained in guardians and attended workshops. They were looking forward to it. There were elders that wanted to be part of the training, that want to be part of the planning setting up this project,” he said.
Once an office is established for the program, he estimates there could be up to eight jobs in the program.
That all said, “To see the signing was great,” Kakfwi said.
Environment and Natural Resources Minister Shane Thompson noted the protected area was important step for Fort Good Hope and Colville Lake, which also had a stake in the proceedings.
“You could feel the pride, and you could hear the enthusiasm from the people,” Thompson told News/North, adding that his department was working to develop a longterm funding option for the protected area.
“It’s about the people. And at the end of the day, it’s our past, which is our elders, our present, which is all of us, and our future which is our youth,” he said.
The protected habitat is important the last point to have culture and history available. “So (youth) can live in it, and not just hear about it,” Thompson said.
He also noted the many hands of community leadership and members, and government staff, that brought the protected area to fruition.
In a Northwest Territories government news release Vicky Orlias, a K’asho Got’ın e Elder, echoed that sentiment and drew attention to the ecological significance of the new project.
“Tuyeta, what makes it special is that is has everything you want, all the animals, forest, lakes and waters flowing. It has moose, caribou, fish, bears, beavers, rabbits and all kinds of birds you wouldn’t normally see in different places. I feel that’s very special,” she said.
“I guess the scenery, places and memories people have like going back over their own places, trails, and on rivers they’ve been before. A very special place to be there and be a part of.”