Thaidene Nëné: History in the Making
In 2019, the Łutsël K’é Dene First Nation established one of Canada's largest protected areas—but the work didn't stop there.
For more than 10 years, the Łutsël K’é Dene First Nation has worked in partnership with Nature United and our global affiliate The Nature Conservancy to advance the Nation’s vision for their traditional homeland in the Northwest Territories: a 6.5 million-acre protected area called Thaidene Nëné.
In 2019, Łutsël K’é Dene First Nation signed Establishment Agreements with Parks Canada and the Government of the Northwest Territories that marked a historic milestone for Thaidene Nëné.
Today, Łutsël K’é leads stewardship of this landscape, showing the world that the only path toward long-term conservation outcomes is the increased rights and authority of Indigenous peoples.
Together with the adjacent Thelon Wildlife Sanctuary, the Thaidene Nëné National Park Reserve and Territorial Protected Area and Wildlife Conservation Area protects an ecological system that spans more than 18 million acres—one of the largest terrestrial protected-area zones in North America.
The Land of the Ancestors
A sweeping landscape of sub-arctic forests and tundra located in the Northwest Territories, Thaidene Nëné provides vital habitat for grizzly bears, wolves, birds, fish and some of the last free-ranging herds of barren-ground caribou.
Thaidene Nëné is an intact ecosystem where development has not yet created roads, structures and activity that forever alter the intrinsic rhythm of nature. It features some of the cleanest freshwater in the world and is part of Canada’s carbon-rich boreal forest, which stretches 1.3 billion acres across the northern rim of North America.
It is a critical source of subsistence and cultural value for the Łutsël K’é Dene First Nation. Thaidene Nëné is home to culturally significant places like the Lady of the Falls, where people of the Łutsël K’é Dene First Nation go for healing and to pray.
This unique combination of ecological and cultural integrity exist in Thaidene Nëné making it a globally-significant landscape.
Thaidene Nëné is the heart of the homeland and sacred place of the Łutsël K’é Denesoline, who rely on its lands and waters for their livelihoods and well-being. Thanks to a precedent-setting approach, Thaidene Nëné will be co-governed by the Łutsël K’é Dene First Nation, federal, and provincial governments.
The protected area is not just about conservation—it is also about promoting a viable economic future for Łutsël K’é. Thaidene Nëné will also foster sustainable economic growth by creating new stewardship jobs and encouraging eco-tourism to the region.
As part of our commitment to Indigenous leadership and investing in community-led youth initiatives, Nature United is proud to support the Ni Hat’Ni Dene Rangers — Łutsël K’é's Indigenous guardian program. This program monitors ecological values, maintains cultural sites, communicates with tourists, transmits knowledge to younger generations, and more.
In 2020, the Ni Hat’Ni Dene Rangers successfully completed a caribou monitoring season on the land, in conjunction with the release of the Caribou Stewardship Monitoring Plan (Yúnethé Xá Ɂetthën Hádi)—a community-led vision for the respectful management of this cultural keystone species.
Łutsël K’é' has been working to make Thaidene Nëné a reality for more than 50 years. Nature United, together with our global affiliate, have been a long-time partner in advancing the Łutsël K’é vision for their traditional territories.
The Thaidene Nëné Story
Decades in the Making
The Łutsël K’é Dene First Nation has been working for decades to protect Thaidene Nëné. Nature United and our global affiliate has been working with Łutsël K’é to advance their vision for more than 10 years.
In 1970, Chief Pierre Catholique and Council refuses to consent to a National Park, concerned with impacts to the harvesting lifestyle of the Łutsël K’é Dene. In 1982, when Canada again approaches Łutsël K’é about establishing a National Park, Hereditary Chief Joe Lockhart famously tells government officials to “pack up their maps and go.”
After diamonds and metals are found in Łutsël K’é’s traditional territory in the 1990s, triggering an industrial development boom, Chief Felix Lockhart and Council become concerned about the land and wildlife and initiate discussions with Parks Canada about a potential park.
Łutsël K’é approves a name and boundary for a protected area they will initiate called Thaidene Nëné, which translates to “Land of the Ancestors” in the Dene language.
Chief Addie Jonasson and Council signs a Memorandum-of-Understanding with Parks Canada to investigate the feasibility of Thaidene Nëné. The land is put under Interim Land Withdrawal through the Akaitcho Process, which protects from any industrial development a total of 24 million acres.
Chief Steven Nitah and Council signs a Framework Agreement with Canada outlining the negotiation process for Thaidene Nëné. In the fall, Chief Antoine Michel and Council initiates formal negotiations. Nature United’s global affiliate starts working with Łutsël K’é by supporting their community-driven conservation goals, including their Guardian program, Ni Hat’ni Dene Rangers, and integrating youth mentorship.
Łutsël K’é and Nature United’s global affiliate work together to organize a trip on the Upper Thelon River to bring awareness to youth’s goals for protecting Thaidene Nëné and resource pressures affecting the Upper Thelon River Watershed. Nature United’s global affiliate continues supporting the Ni Hat’ni Dene Rangers program as it grows.
Early negotiations with the Government of the Northwest Territories for a territorial protected area. Łutsël K’é starts working on strategies for Thaidene Nëné tourism and how to support related economic development. Nature United’s global affiliate continues to provide technical expertise for mapping the ecological and cultural values — giving the Łutsël K’é elders more tools to make decisions about the boundaries of Thaidene Nëné.
Draft boundaries for Thaidene Nëné are agreed to. Łutsël K’é continues its work with our global affiliate, making clear that a conservation economy is critical to the protection of Thaidene Nëné . Łutsël K’é and our global affiliate initiate a partnership to raise $15M for an endowment fund to support co-governance of Thaidene Nëné. The federal government matches the funds, which will create a $30M Thaidene Nëné Fund to support Łutsël K’é’s co-governing roles and responsibilities.
Tracey Williams, who has lived and worked in the Northwest Territories for 20 years (including for Łutsël K’é) joins the Nature United team to lead our work for Thaidene Nëné Initiative, as well as other community-driven initiatives focused on Indigenous autonomy, leadership and diversified economic development.
Nature United formalizes its commitment to raise $15 million in partnership with the LKDFN in February. Łutsël K’é ratifies Thaidene Nëné through an all-member referendum (88% of ballots in favour). Łutsël K’é invites the Government of Canada and the Government of the Northwest Territories to sign Establishment Agreements in August 2019.
During the first year of co-governance, the Ni Hat'ni Dene Rangers successfully complete a caribou monitoring season on the land; Łutsël K’é Dene First Nation releases a Caribou Stewardship Plan to encourage and support respectful hunting practices; and the community embarks on a 5-year Strategic Plan for Thaidene Nëné.
Nature United and its global affiliate The Nature Conservancy have been long-time partners in advancing Łutsël K’é Dene First Nation's vision for their traditional territories, including raising $15 million to help establish the Thaidene Nëné Trust to support a precedent-setting model of Indigenous co-governance.
This innovative model will provide long-term sustainable funding and will guarantee that the Łutsël K’é community has the resources to hire rangers, manage concessions and park activities and ensure the area is maintained for its ecological and cultural values.
By providing support for the Łutsël K’é community to map cultural and ecologically significant areas, Nature United helped inform the boundaries of Thaidene Nëné.
Nature United has a deep commitment to supporting the leadership and authority of Indigenous peoples across Canada. In places like Thaidene Nëné and the Great Bear Rainforest, we work to advance sustainable economic development while protecting globally significant ecosystems.