First new Indigenous protected area in Canada: Edéhzhíe Protected Area
Located in the traditional Dehcho territory in the southwestern part of the Northwest Territories, Edéhzhíe is a spiritual place that is ecologically and physically unique. Its lands, waters, and wildlife are integral to the Dehcho Dene culture, language, and way of life. Edéhzhíe protects the headwaters of much of the watershed of the Dehcho region. Its diverse habitat—from wetlands to forests—is home to a wide variety of northern plants and animals. Edéhzhíe encompasses the Horn Plateau, a 600-metre escarpment rising above the Mackenzie Valley, and the surrounding area of boreal forest drained by the Horn and Willowlake rivers. Edéhzhíe provides important habitat for boreal woodland caribou and wood bison: two threatened species listed under the federal Species at Risk Act. It also contains a portion of Mills Lake, a key habitat site hosting significant portions of the national population of migratory birds, including 12 per cent of Canada’s eastern population of Tundra swans and 14 per cent of our mid-continent population of greater white-fronted geese. By designating Edéhzhíe as an Indigenous protected area and national wildlife area, the Dehcho First Nations and the Government of Canada will work together to protect the area’s ecological integrity from impacts of future development and ensure that the Dehcho Dene way of life is maintained for present and future generations.
The Edéhzhíe Protected Area is the first Indigenous protected area designated in Canada under Budget 2018’s Nature Legacy, and it is an important step toward reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples. Support for Indigenous protected areas was a key recommendation of the Indigenous Circle of Experts’ report (PDF) released in March 2018 and a commitment made in Budget 2018. Protection of this area was achieved through a collaborative process between the Dehcho First Nations and the Government of Canada. This new protection will ensure that the relationships between the Dehcho Dene peoples and the lands of Edéhzhíe are maintained for present and future generations. The Indigenous protected area will encourage Dehcho Dene presence on the land and continuance of language, harvesting, and other aspects of Dehcho Dene culture. Furthermore, the lands that make up the Edéhzhíe Protected Area will make a significant contribution to Canada’s international commitment to protecting 17 per cent of land and fresh water by 2020. The Edéhzhíe Protected Area is 14,218 square kilometres, covering an area more than twice the size of Banff National Park.
Environment and Climate Change Canada is also working in collaboration with the Dehcho First Nations to formally designate the area as a national wildlife area by 2020. Establishing Edéhzhíe as a national wildlife area will complement the objectives of the Indigenous protected area by providing additional protection and stewardship measures. By joining the national network of national wildlife areas, Edéhzhíe will have even greater support to achieve results for the conservation of wildlife and wildlife habitat.
A key part of the establishment of Edéhzhíe is the expansion of Dehcho K’éhodi. The Dehcho K’éhodi Stewardship Program is a regional on-the-land program for stewardship activities. Dehcho K’éhodi means “taking care of the Dehcho” in the language of the Dehcho Dene. Resourcing this program to operate in the protected area is a core element of the Edéhzhíe establishment agreement and an essential part of the Indigenous protected area management. The guardians will be responsible for much of the monitoring and management of Edéhzhíe. The Dehcho K’éhodi will undertake on-the-land stewardship activities including patrols, research projects, and youth mentoring in the Indigenous protected area. Local Dene guardians will be the eyes and ears of Edéhzhíe. Along with Dene laws and values, their work will be guided by a management plan developed by the Edéhzhíe management board. The board will be made up of representatives from the Dehcho First Nations and Environment and Climate Change Canada, and it will make its decisions by consensus.
Funding for the establishment and management of the Indigenous protected area over the first few years will be provided by the Canada Nature Fund. Budget 2018 set aside a $500 million investment to create a $1 billion nature fund in partnership with corporate, not-for-profit, provincial, territorial, and other partners.
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