Ot­tawa, First Na­tions to pro­tect giant N.W.T. area

The Standard (St. Catharines) - - Canada & World -

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.

“They’re ex­tremely im­por­tant,” McKenna said. “There’s a va­ri­ety of dif­fer­ent ways that we’re go­ing to need to look at how we meet these goals, but cer­tainly Indige­nous peo­ple are very keen to be part of the so­lu­tion.”

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

“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 and man­aged by 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.

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

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