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Visiting the north with an Olympian!

Last week, I had the great pleasure of joining Canada’s greatest Olympian, Clara Hughes – the only athlete in the world to win multiple medals in both summer and winter Olympic Games – on a very special trip to the Northwest Territories, along with my CPAWS-NWT chapter colleague Erica Janes. We were hosted by the warm and welcoming members of the Lustel K’e Dene First Nation in their home community at the East Arm of Great Slave Lake – 240 km east of Yellowknife, and accessible only by air, snowmobile or boat. In our case, we arrived by single-prop Cessna Caravan, after skimming low over countless frozen lakes and forests and part of the East Arm itself.

Photo - Amos Scott
Erica Janes (left) from CPAWS-NWT, Clara Hughes (centre), and me (right) as we arrived in Lutsel K'e.
Photo by Amos Scott

This was my third visit to this magical part of Canada – this time in mid-April, it was blanketed by frozen snow and ice. But with days of bright sunlight lasting until 10:00 at night, the beauty of the landscape sparkled and lifted our spirits in spite of temperatures still below zero. We went to  Lutsel K’e with Clara and a video crew, led by Amos Scott of NCS Productions, to get more firsthand experience of the community and the land, stretching over 33,000 km2, which the Lutsel K’e Dene First Nation and CPAWS hope will become Canada’s newest national park reserve, called Thaidene Nene, meaning “Land of the Ancestors”.

Lutsel K’e’s negotiating team are in meetings with Parks Canada as I write this, to work out an agreement in principle for managing the new park reserve. Time matters. For now, all of the land is temporarily off limits to development, but that order will expire in March 2014. With prospectors hungry for new frontiers, the importance of protecting this unique landscape where boreal forest gives way to tundra and some of the last great herds of caribou and muskox still roam, grows more important by the day.

Clara and Erica heading out to the fishing derby!
Photo by Amos Scott

From feasting with the community during their spring carnival on delicious fish chowder – made from the prize lake trout caught during the local derby the day we arrived, to snowmobiling out to a cabin on the nearby Snowdrift River to check muskrat traps and enjoy the serenity of a star-filled night, to cheering on the village boys and men as they put out their best moves during a raucous hand games tournament in the community hall, our days were full.

These are the types of activities other visitors from the south will be able to enjoy, once the community raises the funds it needs and gets underway with plans to host activities for park visitors. Keep it on your list of must-visit places in Canada! In the meantime, please help us to get the park up and going, by taking a moment to sign on in support of its establishment.

Clara reacquaints with Elder Madeleine Catholique
Photo by Amos Scott

Now you may be wondering why Clara Hughes made this special journey. She has quite a personal story to tell about how she came to know and fall in love with with Lutsel K’e and Thaidene Nene. Check out her great blog for more!

You can also learn more about this amazing place at

And if you happen to live in the areas of Ottawa or Calgary, the people of  Lutsel K’e and Clara will be visiting in early May for speaking events. See the details at CPAWS-Ottawa Valley and CPAWS-Southern Alberta.