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Happy National Aboriginal Day!

June 21st is a day of celebration across Canada, and here in the NWT it is especially charged with the energy of very long days and that special quality of light found nowhere else. National Aboriginal Day gives us an opportunity to reflect on the accomplishments of the NWT’s predominantly Aboriginal communities. In the realm of conserving the natural and cultural values of our territory, there is both much to celebrate, and much yet to be done.

CPAWS-NWT has been working with NWT communities to protect special areas for over a decade. Right now, we are thrilled to be working with the Lutsel K’e Dene First Nation (LKDFN) to advance permanent protection of Thaidene Nene, a massive area around and beyond the eastern shores of Great Slave Lake.

Covering over 33,500 square kilometres (an area larger than Vancouver Island), Thaidene Nene has a rich cultural and natural history. It is home to large and healthy wildlife populations, some of the deepest freshwater in North America, the transition zone between boreal and tundra ecosystems, and countless stories and spiritual sites.

In Chipewyan, Thaidene Nene means Land of the Ancestors – the area has been the homeland of the Lutsel K’e Dene for thousands of years. Thaidene Nene is where the ancestors of the Lutsel K’e Dene laid down the sacred, ethical, and practical foundations of their way of life, and is where community members continue to carry out their traditional activities and culture.

In 1969 (yes, that’s over 40 years ago!) Parks Canada officials traveled to Lutsel K’e to propose the idea of creating a national park on the East Arm of Great Slave Lake. The federal government withdrew land for a protected area in 1970, but LKDFN were concerned that a national park would negatively impact their traditional ways of life and refused Parks Canada’s appeals until the year 2000. As industrial pressures continued to increase in the area (it is rich with mineral deposits and hydro potential), LKDFN came to the decision that permanent protection was the only way to ensure they could carry out their right and responsibility to practice their relationship with the land, promote their culture, and protect the area upon which this culture and relationship depend. Additionally, establishing Thaidene Nene as a protected area is an important piece of sustainable community economic development for Lutsel K’e, and will help create a viable economic future for the community as the gateway to the protected area.

In 2010, LKDFN asked CPAWS to work with them to promote their vision for protecting Thaidene Nene. Together, we have been building public support through public outreach activities in the NWT and across Canada. The East Arm of Great Slave has been a beloved destination of NWT residents and others who value wilderness for decades; there is much common ground amongst everyone who spends time in the area.

We hope you’ll join us when the time comes for the public to add their voices in support of Lutsel K’e’s vision for establishing Thaidene Nene. Find out more at and, and sign up here for updates.

Photo credits: Mike Palmer (top), Clara Hughes (bottom)