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A trip to Lutsel K’e and Thaidene Nene

In mid-April, CPAWS National Trustees and staff held their annual spring meetings in Yellowknife, a first since the NWT Chapter was created in 1996.  With 13 Chapters and a Board of Trustees that span the country, these meetings are heldin a location that will help highlight a regional conservation initiative. With the NWT Chapter hosting this year’s meetings, we were able to connect and share knowledge with local and regional Indigenous leadership on past, present and future conservation work in the NWT.

We also had the incredible opportunity to take a day trip to Lutsel K’e and Thaidene Nene, to see this incredible landscape for ourselves, and to meet some of the people in the community working to make this conservation vision a reality. As it happened, our visit coincided with the annual Lutsel K’e Spring Carnival – a huge bonus for staff and Trustees, many of whom had never been north of 60° before.
In addition to our planned visit with community members and leadership, learning to pull fishnets from under the ice, touring the area on snowmobiles, and flying over of the East Arm of Great Slave Lake, we also got to participate in some of theevents and ceremonies included in the annual celebration of spring. It was a priviledged glimpse into what a tourism economy in Lutsel K’e could look like once Thaidene Nene is established.

The trip  was truly inspiring, providing a glimpse into the opportunities Thaidene Nene presents for large-landscape conservation, keeping culture strong, and building a sustainable local economy based on tourism and conservation.

Below are just a few of the notes and photos we received from staff and Trustees about their memorable trip to Lutsel K’e.

Lutsel K'e is an amazingly beautiful place in the stewardship of an impressively proud, capable and motivated community. There is a respect for the land by the people that one does not often see. There is also a wonderful harmony between the culture and traditions of the Lutsel K'e Dene First Nation and the ecological needs of the land that they depend upon. The enthusiasm, pride and optimism of this community is as infectious as the beauty of the Great Slave Lake East Arm is captivating. Thank you, Lutsel K'e, for sharing this special place with us and for pursuing a vision that includes its protection as a national park for us all to appreciate in its pristine splendour.

Pippa Lawson
National Trustee
Thaidene Nene is a magical place on the east arm of Great Slave Lake, a vast landscape of raw intact wilderness in the Northwest Territories. We flew into the small community of Lutsel K'e and were welcomed by the friendly people who shared their community and their culture with us for a day. Coming from Calgary and my first time up north, I was struck by the authenticity of the people and the beauty of the barren landscape where Muskox and caribou roam.  The community members took off their gloves to shake our hands and greet us individually saying their names. The elders shared stories and we experienced traditional games and a snapshot of their daily lives including fishing and ski-dooing across the frozen waters. It is amazing to experience a place where you can drink right out of the lake, where wilderness is the way of life, where the climate strips away the masks people wear and where the people are real.

Anne Marie Syslak
CPAWS Southern Albert Executive Director, Calgary AB
Visiting Thaidene Nene and the Lutsel K’e community was probably my highlight of the winter 2015. As winter was already over at home in Quebec, I was glad to have a last glimpse of that wonderful season in northern lands. But I wasn’t expecting to be that blown away. I got the chance to see Thaidene Nene both from above and at ground level; I realized how unique this place is. The giant cliffs falling into the vast Great Slave Lake, the magical spot that is ice-free year round, the endless landscapes, the handgames at Lutsel K’e… Yes, this place shall be protected forever!

Pier-Olivier Boudreault
SNAP (CPAWS – Quebec Chapter), Montreal QC 
Growing up and still living in northern Saskatchewan, there was a part of me that felt very at home in Lutsel K'e, reminding me of my younger days spending time on the snowmobiles with my Grandpa on his trapline. But at the same time, the experience was so new and exciting! What particularly struck me was the vastness of this area. I've experienced the backcountry on a regular basis with my horses in Prince Albert National Park, but this was different and very inspiring! I was inspired by the sense of community and the joy that was evident at Lutsel K'e. There was a strong sense of happiness and humble pride from each of the people I had the opportunity to interact with, from the little girl (probably 3 years old) who smiled up at me and waved because she liked my hat to the boys and men playing the hand games to the elder who shook my hand and then was helped to find a seat so he could observe the hand games. The highlight for me was obviously being trusted to drive one of the snowmobiles and to spend time on the lake with the community members as we checked nets and toured the sites. This was an experience of a lifetime. I hope I am able to return someday!

Gord Vaadeland
Executive Director, CPAWS Saskatchewan
The important message that I got from my visit to the village of Lutsel Kè! is that Nature is beautiful and that we should do everything to keep it that way.

Vincent Castellucci
National Trustee
Visiting the people of Lutsel K’e and Thaidenen Nene in April was an unforgettable experience for a Torontonian. It was impressive to see ice fishing on Great Slave Lake. I admire the Lutsel K’e Dene’s persistent work to protect their ancestral land and cultural traditions through the creation of Thaidene Nene. I hope the negotiations between Lutsel K’e and the Government of NWT and Canada will soon lead to protection of Thaidene Nene, which will be a great benefit for wild nature in Canada and for the people of Lutsel K’e, the NWT, Canada and beyond.

Lavinia Mohr
National Trustee
The chance to visit a remote community in the north is something very few people get to experience. Our visit was as much about being on the land as it was about the passionate people who live there. From the moment our plane landed, we were greeted with smiles and welcomed to the small community of approximately 200 (depending on the time of year).
After an amazing guided trip on the lake that gave us just a taste of what it’s like living there, we returned back to the community hall where a fish filleting contest was underway as part of their spring festival.
The highlight for me was watching a very intense game of traditional handgames. I didn’t fully understand what was going on, but the intensity of watching the game, being immersed by the deafening drums and being one of the many spectators drew me in.
On our way back to Yellowknife, we flew over a section of Thaidene Nene, the place Lutsel K’e has been working so hard to have protected. It seemed fitting that as we said goodbye, we looked out the small window and saw two muskoxen in the far distance, walking on one of the small lakes.

Jill Sturdy
CPAWS, National Office
This was my first trip north of 60, and an unforgettable one at that. Being able to visit Lutsel K'e and tour some of Thaidene Nene, as well as see and experience the communty's way of life and connection to the land was just incredible.These people are proud of where they come from and truly enjoy sharing their culture, traditions and knowledge.Thank you for showing us your world. We will continue to do what we can to help protect it for generations to come.

Karen Turner
CPAWS, National Office
You rarely find a community that embodies an attachment to the land the way that the Lutsel'ke Dene do. It is such an honour to be their conservation partner and working with them to promote their vision for this incredible part of the world. A brilliant concept for eco-cultural tourism, a way to maintain their traditional livelihood, a conservation outcome and a model for the world. It isn't difficult to want to share this dream with Canadians from coast to coast to coast. Their warm welcome to our board and staff has successfully converted us into strong activists to protect the Land of the Ancestors.
Marsi cho.

Éric Hébert-Daly
CPAWS, National Executive Director
The spectacular northern landscape and the warm welcome from the community of Lutsel K’e made for a very special day visiting Thaidene Nene with my CPAWS colleagues from across the country.  I have had the great privilege of being part of the CPAWS team working to support Lutsel K’e’s vision for protecting Thaidene Nene for several years.  I returned from this visit inspired once again by the community’s deep respect for, and generous sharing of knowledge about their homeland. We have so much to learn. Thank you to Chief Lockhart, Gloria and all the community members for making this special day possible. Thaidene Nene must be protected, and we are committed to helping make this happen.
Mahsi cho

Alison Woodley
CPAWS Director, Parks Program

Photo Credits: (1 & 2) Elena Kreuzberg (3 & 4) Erica Janes (5) Éric Hébert-Daly