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Łutsël K’é Dene First Nation wins international prize from United Nations

Łutsël K’é Dene First Nation, N.W.T., has been named as one of 10 winners worldwide of a prestigious prize from the United Nations.

The First Nation is being recognized for decades of work put into establishing Thaidene Nëné or “Land of the Ancestors” National Park Reserve — on the east arm of Great Slave Lake. The Indigenous Protected Area spans 26,376 square kilometres of boreal forest and tundra with lakes, rivers, and waterfalls.

The Equator Prize recognizes Indigenous peoples and local communities innovating nature-based solutions to climate change and for sustainable development. 

This year, the First Nation was selected from among nearly 600 nominations in more than 120 countries. It’s the first time a Canadian group has won the award.

Steven Nitah, the lead negotiator for Thaidene Nëné, found out about the news on Thursday and said it is an honour after decades of work. 

“We’re doing good work, we’re doing innovative work, work that hasn’t been done in Canada,” he said.

“We’re also breaking a trail on what reconciliation could look like, and does look like, for Łutsël K’é.”

In 2010, Canada and the Łutsël K’é Dene First Nation committed to negotiate a park agreement for the establishment of Thaidene Nëné National Park Reserve. (Parks Canada)

Decades of hard work

The management deal was signed last summer, and gave four local First Nations an unprecedented role in the park’s operation.

But the federal and territorial protection of the area was 50 years in the making. In 1969, Parks Canada approached the Łutsël K’é Dene First Nation with its vision for a national park. 

Nitah said he hopes that the work they put in can set standards on a national and international stage.

“Thaidene Nëné is a great example of what can be done here in Canada right across the country. Thousands of jobs can be created. Land use can be reviewed … when it is done in a positive relationship.”

Ron Desjarlais cleans a fish at the tip of Thaidene Nëné last summer. It’s an important hunting, fishing and spiritual place for First Nation and Métis people in the region. (Emily Blake/CBC )

Nitah said there were many hands involved in the creation of  Thaidene Nëné, giving recognition to elders and members of the First Nation, who worked with the negotiation team over the past decade.

“We had great partners and supporters Canada and the GNWT came to the table with some with open minds …  that was innovative and different.”

“For that to be recognized by the United Nations —  it’s something that’s very special.”

The award comes with a $10,000 prize, and winners will be celebrated through a series of virtual events in September 2020 during Climate Week NYC, with the UN General Assembly and Nature Summit.

“This prize will give a platform to speak about the need for respectful relationships all around,” said Nitah.

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