Canada Declares 3.5 Million Acre Indigenous Protected Area in Northwest Territories

Just this month, the Canadian government and Dehcho First Nation pledged to permanently protect over 3.5 million acres in the Northwest Territories—or 14,250-square-kilometers—of wildlife-rich boreal forests and wetlands as the Edéhzhíe Dehcho Protected Area and National Wildlife Area.

Edéhzhíe Dehcho Protected Area and National Wildlife Area | Photo Credit: Ducks Unlimited Canada

Edéhzhíe Dehcho Protected Area and National Wildlife Area | Photo Credit: Ducks Unlimited Canada

The news, which was reported by The Globe and Mail, is an important step by Canada toward fulfilling its commitment to protect 17 percent of its lands by 2020. While much work is still needed to finalize these protections through the designation of the area as a national wildlife area, the agreement that the federal government signed with the Dehcho First Nation to establish the area as an Indigenous Protected Area is an important step forward in recognizing Indigenous rights over land management decisions. The Dehcho have a deep, historic, cultural, and spiritual connection to the Edéhzhíe, and it is critical to ensure that their traditional knowledge will guide the future management of this area.

It was not long ago that it looked like this important step towards co-management of the area for conservation might not happen. As the Dehcho waited on the government to provide protection for the region, a process which began in the late 1990s, the national Canadian government was looking to open up the region to mineral extraction.

After a long wait, however, the Dehcho First Nation won this hard fought step towards final, permanent protection for the Edéhzhíe.

“[The Indigenous Protected Area declaration has] been a long time coming. It will give us some capacity to start addressing the goals of our communities and approaching protection in ways that make sense to them, that helps our communities approach stewardship in a meaningful way.”

–Dahti Tsetso, resource management co-ordinator for the Dehcho First Nations and director of the Dehcho K’ehodi Stewardship and Guardians Program"

With the designation of the Indigenous Protected Area, mineral extraction and other intrusive forms of development will be off-limits inside the Edéhzhíe Dehcho Protected Area while the Canadian federal government moves forward with final designation of the area as a co-managed national wildlife area.

Another important component of the Edéhzhíe Indigenous Protected Area agreement is the expansion of the Dehcho K’ehodi Stewardship and Guardians Program. The guardians program provides locally-driven management of the protected area through monitoring and education. To support the growth of the innovative guardians program, the Wyss Campaign for Nature, through a grant to Ducks Unlimited's International Boreal Conservation Campaign, is working with the local communities to expand the program and provide needed land management resources to enable the Dehcho First Nation to care for the land and to guarantee they directly benefit economically from the management of Edéhzhíe. Thanks to a collaboration with Canada’s recently established Nature Fund, private philanthropy is a partner with government to advance our shared goals of conservation and economic diversification at Edéhzhíe.

Permanently protecting sensitive and wildlife-rich lands and waters, like those found in Canada’s Boreal forests, is absolutely critical to addressing the global conservation crisis facing our planet. Finalizing the protections for the Edéhzhíe Dehcho Protected Area and National Wildlife Area will be an important step forward. Canada’s Federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna summarized it well:

"By protecting more of nature, we are ensuring a healthier and more prosperous future for our kids and grandkids.”

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