This article was updated on Sept. 15, 2020, to insert a dropped word in the first sentence and to further clarify the piece.
Today marks the first anniversary of the landmark creation of Thaidene Nëné, an area created by a partnership between Indigenous and public governments in Northwest Canada that conserves 26,525 square kilometers (6.5 million acres) of old-growth boreal forests, lakes, rivers, and wildlife habitat.
The Lutsel K’e Dene First Nation led the effort to establish Thaidene Nëné (or “Land of the Ancestors” in English), one of the largest protected areas in Canada. The nation worked with the governments of Canada and the Northwest Territories to develop a cooperative agreement for protection and conservation of the area, based on land management policies that center around humans’ relationship with the land. However, this holistic approach considers more than how people use land; it also identifies interdependencies among animals and ecosystems, and the connection between land and people.
Thaidene Nëné’s unique management system can set an example for addressing the effects of climate change in Canada. The country’s boreal forest region is home to 25% of the Earth’s wetlands, which store vast amounts of carbon. Together with other carbon-rich landscapes in the boreal, the forest holds the equivalent of up to 36 years’ worth of global industrial emissions. By leaving ecosystems intact, Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas (IPCAs) such as Thaidene Nëné keep carbon in the ground.
Indigenous-led conservation is also playing an important role in helping Canada meet its international conservation commitments under the Convention on Biological Diversity. The large scale of Thaidene Nëné and many proposed IPCAs will help the country achieve its target of protecting at least 25% of its land by 2025. When the Canadian government announced funding last August for a series of conservation projects aimed at reaching its biodiversity targets, it included support for over 25 IPCAs. Thaidene Nëné also uses the Indigenous Guardian program, which provides opportunities for Indigenous people to help care for their homeland and monitor changes in the land and climate.
In June, the United Nations Development Programme named the Lutsel K’e Dene First Nation one of 10 winners of its prestigious 2020 Equator Prize, awarded to spotlight Indigenous communities that are implementing strategies for sustainably protecting, restoring, and managing ecosystems to create resilience to climate change.
In acknowledging the award, Chief Darryl Marlowe said, “The protection and stewardship of Thaidene Nëné is the sacred responsibility of the Lutsel K’e Dene First Nation, as passed down to us through the generations from our elders. Achieving the protection of Thaidene Nëné is a decades-long dream, and a critical step toward ensuring our way of life can be maintained and shared with all Canadians.”
The Equator Prize winners will be celebrated at a virtual ceremony in September, giving the Lutsel K’e Dene First Nation back-to-back months of milestones for its precedent-setting achievement.
Steve Ganey directs The Pew Charitable Trusts’ work on marine and terrestrial conservation.