Wednesday, October 23, 2019

A Great Canadian Idea

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In Fly Away Snow Goose, the young hero and heroine are on the run from a punitive, frightening residential school. They hope, after surviving a long wilderness journey and rejoining their families at winter hunting camp, that they will be able to continue their lives hunting and gathering, co-existing with Nature in the same manner as their ancestors.

"It's the land that keeps things for us. Being our home, it's important for us to take care of the dwelling--the land--for wherever you go is home." ~Rosalie Tailbone

Of course, the time in which Fly Away Snow Goose is set, the early 1950's, was actually the beginning of enormous changes in the NWT. Roads were built and bush plane travel became more common. There was an influx of outsiders prospecting for diamonds, gold, natural gas and oil, all the commodities so precious to the ever-needy Western world.   The new settlers and the industries they brought with them have been a mixed bag for the original inhabitants. The elders became concerned at the growing water pollution and loss of game. They directed the next generation to find new ways to protect the land, as well as their culture, language, and way of life.

Today, as Canada works toward reconciliation with 1st Nations' people, they also face new challenges resulting from a rapidly changing climate. Instead of doing conservation by fiat and disregarding the input of Indigenous communities, Canada is beginning to create protected areas in ways that empower these original and most engaged inhabitants.

Thaidene Nëné

In a recent Audubon article, "Guardians of the North" by Hannah Hoag, I read (happily!) about the newly established  protected area, Thaidene Nëné, encompassing more than 6.4 million acres of land stretching from the easternmost tip of Great Slave Lake northeast toward the Arctic Territory of  Nunavut. The result of 30 years of careful, on-again-off-again negotiation between a host of parties--the Canadian Government,  the government of the NWT, the Yellowknives Dene, The Northwest Territory Métis Nation, the Deninu K'ue First Nation and the Lutsël K’é Dene First Nation--is that this enormous area will be preserved to not only feed but to spiritually nourish future generations of Canadians of every heritage.

It is hoped that this arrangement, achieved by the traditional method of consensus building, will not only preserve something of the tribal, ancient ways of life but serve to conserve the many species who share the environment. Protection for one of the few remaining great Northern Boreal forests will not be an easy task, but it is the kind of dramatic step that is needed in the 21st Century, where "Mother Nature is on the run." Sacred sites will be respected, water will remain clean and full of the fish--trout, inconnu, pike, burbot--and that the forests, unbroken by transmission lines, will continue to give protection to the caribou who enter them to birth their young.   

This new agreement is a monumental achievement for the 1st Nation's who were involved, as well as for the governments of NWT and Parks Canada.  I hope the establishment of such a "park," this wild Thaidene Nëné with its thousands of species, will prove to be such a success that it will become the accepted pattern of conservation for governments the world over. 

~ Juliet Waldron

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