A plan to protect at least half
The Dehcho is an area of 220,000 sq km located in the Northwest Territories of Canada on the Mackenzie (Deh Cho) River, an area of boreal forest and mountains that are larger than many countries. The Dehcho First Nations are Dene people who have occupied their homeland for time immemorial. Some elders were born on the land and our Slavey language is still spoken. Traditional harvesting activity remains an important economic and cultural pursuit. There is great pressure for industrial development including a major gas pipeline and mining activity. The land is of paramount importance to our people. We have rights protected under section 35 of Canada’s Constitution Act and are engaged in a process with the Government of Canada that addresses the future of our land that will result in a Treaty.
Our wilderness conservation efforts began with a traditional areas mapping exercise in which we consulted our people on the areas that were important to their traditional use. We then had that material digitized using western science. The resulting map showed core areas and connecting corridors which we wish to conserve for our people’s traditional use and the protection of the land. We then negotiated with Canada for that area to be withdrawn from further industrial dispositions during our process. We are looking at a variety of legal instruments for permanent protection including working with Parks Canada to have the entire South Nahanni watershed and Ram Plateau (an area of 36,000 sq km.) protected as an expanded national park under Canada’s National Parks Act which we would jointly manage. This headwaters area is vital to our water quality and our culture.
The next step to protect our land is the Dehcho Land Use Planning Process which is underway; a draft was released June 2005. The plan would protect over 50 % of our territory in interconnected conservation zones, an amount of protection I believe is a good rule of thumb for all First Nations to pursue to ensure the future of the land and the wildlife that lives on it. Good management based on the balance of land use through special management zones, general use zones and an infrastructure corridor can accommodate careful industrial activity. This is consistent with the Canadian Boreal Framework to which we are a founding signatory. The Dehcho Land Use Planning Committee will consult on the plan in 2006. Then we will work to see that the final Land Use Plan with its protections is adopted for our land through negotiations with Canada. We expect the entire Dehcho Process to be complete by March 2008.
This summary of the Dehcho commitment was presented at the 8th World Wilderness Congress (2005, Alaska) and appears in Protecting Wild Nature on Native Lands, the proceedings from the inaugural Native Lands and Wilderness Council which convened at that Congress.