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Thaidene Nene: A short history

Protecting nature and a way of life in the NWT

CPAWS is bringing the story of an innovative effort to protect a special part of the Northwest Territories, and the culture and traditions of a small and remote First Nation to our supporters far and wide. This is a tale about the Lutsel K’e Dene First Nation (LKDFN) and their inspiring work to protect their vast and ecologically unique traditional homeland around and beyond the shores of the East Arm of Great Slave Lake.

Thaidene Nene (meaning “land of the ancestors”) is the name of the proposed protected area. It is the heart of the homeland of the Lutsel K’e Dene, who are currently negotiating with Parks Canada to permanently protect its unique geography of Boreal forest, countless lakes and rushing rivers, barren lands and abundant wildlife, and vital cultural landscapes.

Today, I want to share a little of the history of efforts to protect this area with you.

Parks Canada first proposed the idea of a protected area on the East Arm of Great Slave Lake to the Lutsel K’e Dene in 1969-70.  At the time, Chief Pierre Catholique refused to consider the idea, fearing that a national park would compromise the autonomy of his people and their ability to continue their way of life, including hunting, trapping and fishing.

Although Canada withdrew lands and waters in and around the East Arm for the future purpose of a national park in 1970, Lutsel K’e continued to resist Parks Canada’s interest in the area for three decades.

But by the 1980s, the community came to the decision that permanent protection was the only way to ensure they could continue to practice their relationship with the land, promote their culture, and protect the area upon which this culture and relationship depend. Their confidence to negotiate with Canada was strengthened by the Constitution Act of 1982 which established legal protection for aboriginal and treaty rights, and the negotiating context for NWT land claims.

Then, in the late 1990s, the NWT experienced one of the largest mineral staking rushes in Canadian history. Diamonds were found, and massive areas were claimed for mineral exploration within a very short period of time. Since then, uranium and rare earth elements have been found in the area of Thaidene Nene. Combined with hydropower potential, these resources create intense pressure to industrialize this landscape.

And so in 2000, Chief Felix Lockhart approached the Government of Canada to re-open discussions about protecting Thaidene Nene. In 2006, the LKDFN signed a memorandum of understanding with Canada to guide the cooperative preparatory work necessary before negotiations began, including feasibility studies (mineral and energy resources, socio-economic and ecological goods and services, and cultural and archaeological resources), boundary development, and training and capacity enhancement.

In 2007, an additional 26,000 km2 was added to the original 1970 land withdrawal (see map) – one of the largest interim land withdrawals in Canadian history. This temporary protection of 33,500km2 will ensure its integrity until permanent protection is secured, but it expires in March 2014.

In 2010, work towards creating a new form of park began in earnest, with Parks Canada and the LKDFN signing the Thaidene Nene Framework Agreement, and beginning negotiations on establishment. Negotiations are ongoing, and the two parties expect to sign an Agreement-in-Principle by March 2013, with March 2014 targeted for finalized protection.

Thaidene Nene contains many beautiful places that have special cultural significance to the Lutsel K’e Dene. It is the place where their ancestors laid down the sacred, ethical, and practical foundations of their way of life. And it is where the Lutsel K’e Dene continue to keep their culture, traditions, and people strong through practicing their relationships with the land, water and wildlife. Protecting Thaidene Nene will also allow Lutsel K’e to develop a sustainable economic base: as the gateway to Thaidene Nene, the community will be able to diversify and sustain a local tourism-based economy.

You can read more about CPAWS staff adventures in Lutsel K’e and parts of Thaidene Nene in other blog entries, from this past summer out on the lake, and the annual Lutsel K’e spiritual gathering during the summer of 2011.

Please join us to add your voice in support of Lutsel K’e’s vision for establishing Thaidene Nene. Find out more at and our NWT Chapter site, and sign up here for updates.


Photos, top to bottom:

- Overlooking Tochatwi Bay, East Arm of Great Slave Lake. Photo by Erica Janes

- Pierre Catholique, former Chief and elder of Lutsel K’e. Photo by Tessa Macintosh

- Youth on the shores of the East Arm. Photo by Tessa Macintosh