New deal pro­tects an­ces­tral lands of First Na­tions

Saskatoon StarPhoenix - - CITY+REGION - BOB WE­BER

FORT PROV­I­DENCE, N.W.T. It’s where el­ders hunt and chil­dren hear their sto­ries by the camp­fire. And af­ter a deal signed Thurs­day be­tween First Na­tions and the fed­eral govern­ment, it’s likely to stay that way.

Fed­eral En­vi­ron­ment Min­is­ter Cather­ine McKenna and four In­dige­nous com­mu­ni­ties from the De­hcho re­gion in the North­west Ter­ri­to­ries have agreed to cre­ate Ede­hzhie, an area more than twice the size of Banff Na­tional Park, where all in­dus­trial devel­op­ment will be banned.

“It is a place our an­ces­tors used from time im­memo­rial,” said De­hcho Grand Chief Gla­dys Nor­we­gian.

Ede­hzhie will cover more than 14,000 square kilo­me­tres of for­est, wet­lands and lakes — a wilder­ness where birds fill the sky, fish teem in rivers and vast cari­bou herds roam the plains.

“It’s a re­ally ex­cit­ing op­por­tu­nity,” said McKenna. “It’s a huge area and it’s part of what we’re try­ing to do, work in real part­ner­ship with In­dige­nous peo­ple.”

McKenna said Ede­hzhie will be Canada’s first In­dige­nous Pro­tected Area, a new clas­si­fi­ca­tion that of­fers the same pro­tec­tion as a Na­tional Wildlife Area. Such re­gions will be cru­cial to Canada meet­ing its in­ter­na­tional com­mit­ment to pro­tect 17 per cent of its land area by 2020.

Ar­eas like Ede­hzhie — also known as the Horn Plateau — have ad­van­tages over new na­tional parks, said McKenna.

“Parks are lim­i­ta­tions from the per­spec­tives of In­dige­nous peo­ple. This al­lows you to be much more cre­ative.”

Ot­tawa has cre­ated sev­eral other pro­tected ar­eas with guid­ance from First Na­tions, in­clud­ing Haida Gwaii in the Pa­cific and Lan­caster Sound in the High Arc­tic.

The De­hcho com­mu­ni­ties of Fort Prov­i­dence, Jean Marie River, Fort Simp­son and Wrigley have been work­ing to pre­serve Ede­hzhie since 1988. They took the former Con­ser­va­tive govern­ment to court in 2010 af­ter it qui­etly dropped pro­tec­tion from min­ing.

The De­hcho govern­ment agreed to pre­serve Ede­hzhie in a vote at its coun­cil last sum­mer.

“To put it sim­ply, it’s just to pro­tect an­other piece of our way of life” Nor­we­gian said.

She said ev­ery­one has mem­o­ries of the area, in­clud­ing first trips on the land with their fa­thers and the older men, or af­ter­noons sit­ting in the sun.

“It’s liv­ing with the land, tak­ing and giv­ing of the land, a re­la­tion­ship with the land.”

Ede­hzhie is known as the “bread­bas­ket” of the De­hcho, a place of abun­dance when times are tough else­where.

“It’s a land of plen­ti­ful berries, wildlife and medicine plants,” Nor­we­gian said.

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