This is the fifth in a series of profiles about the staff, leaders, and community members who are hard at work implementing Łutsël K’é Dene First Nation's vision for the Thaidene Nëné Indigenous Protected Area. You can read the other profiles here.
Prairie Desjarlais grew up in Łutsël K’é, raised in a traditional way by her grandparents, Madelaine and Jonas Catholique, her parents, JC Catholique and Cheeko Desjarlais, and her stepmother, Hanna Catholique. Prairie also grew up surrounded by the language. Her grandparents taught her to speak Dënesųłıné and she remembers only speaking her language with her cousin, Henry Catholique. Prairie has worked hard to bring up her own children and grandchildren in the same way, passing on the traditional values she learned from her elders and Henry.
Prairie has been involved in different capacities with Thaidene Nëné since 2015. Currently, she is the coordinator for Ni Hat’ni Dene (Watchers of the Land), Thaidene Nëné’s Indigenous guardian program. Started in 2008, Ni Hat’ni Dene only operated in the summer months. As of January 2020, Ni Hat’ni Dene is now a year-round program.
Prairie likes the pace of the work as the coordinator: “There is always lots to do. Even after five years, I’m learning every day.” She also enjoys her colleagues: “We have a really good staff team in Thaidene Nëné.” But more than anything, she likes the fact that by supporting Ni Hat’ni Dene, she is contributing to the protection of her territory: “It gives me a sense of security to know we have people out there on the land that are from the community and they are protecting the water, the land, the animals, the fish. They are watching who comes to Thaidene Nëné.”
Prairie occasionally goes out on patrol with Ni Hat’ni Dene. For the most part though, she stays in town, making sure the four full-time guardians have whatever they need to do their jobs safely and effectively, whether they are watching over sacred sites on Tu Nedhé (Great Slave Lake), monitoring caribou on hazú (tundra), or interacting with visitors to Thaidene Nëné.
For Prairie, one of the strengths of the program is the intergenerational nature of the Ni Hat’ni Dene crew: “The juniors are better with technology. The seniors have more advanced traditional skills. So they teach and learn from each other.”
Prairie welcomes visitors to Thaidene Nëné. She wants them to see the beautiful and abundant land that has long been home to her ancestors. She also wants them to know that Thaidene Nëné exists because of the vision and the hard work of her community: “It took us 50 years, but we created a park and now we are carrying out our responsibilities as protectors of the land in our way.”
MEDIA RELEASE: Łutsël K’é Dene First Nation Co-recipient of Premier’s Award for Work on Protected Areas Legislation
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 17, 2020 – Łutsël K’é, NT
The Łutsël K’é Dene First Nation is honoured to be named a co-recipient of the 2020 Premier’s Award for Indigenous Partnership, alongside other members of the Protected Areas Act Technical Working Group.
The Premier’s Award for Indigenous Partnerships recognizes the outstanding accomplishments of GNWT employees and teams who work in partnership with Indigenous governments and organizations to strengthen programs and policies, improve access to services for NWT residents, enhance intergovernmental cooperation, and strengthen bilateral relationships.
Formed in 2018, the Technical Working Group, of which the Łutsël K’é Dene First Nation was an active and valued member, played a critical role in the development of the protected areas legislation which came into came into force on July 20, 2019. The Protected Areas Act provides the legislative framework for protecting, conserving, and maintaining biodiversity, ecological integrity, and cultural continuity of the NWT through the creation of a network of permanent protected areas that are representative of the ecosystems and cultural landscapes found in the territory.
The protected areas legislation has been of particular interest to the Łutsël K’é Dene First Nation as it has sought the establishment of the Thaidene Nëné Indigenous Protected Area. Thaidene Nëné means the Land of the Ancestors in Dënesųłıné. In August 2019, approximately 9,100 square kilometres of the area designated by Łutsël K’é Dene First Nation as the Thaidene Nëné Indigenous Protected Area became the first territorial protected area under the new Protected Areas Act.
The Thaidene Nëné Indigenous Protected Area also includes a National Park Reserve (14,070 km2) and a soon to be established Wildlife Conservation Area (3,120 km2). In total, Thaidene Nëné protects 26,376 square kilometres of boreal forest and tundra, the heart of the Łutsël K’é Dene’s traditional territory.
Chief Darryl Marlowe says, “The Łutsël K’é Dene First Nation has long been an advocate for conservation measures that respect inherent and treaty rights and allow for the continuation of the Dënesųłıné way of life long into the future. We are happy to see that, as a result of our involvement with the Technical Working Group, the new legislation allows for us to protect our land from development and maintain our land-based ways of life.”
The protected areas legislation that was developed with the guidance of the Technical Working Group including the Łutsël K’é Dene First Nation protects designated areas from industrial and commercial development, while still allowing for sustainable tourism, traditional economies, and conservation economy opportunities. Under the Protected Areas Act, territorial protected areas are co-governed and co-managed by Indigenous governments and the GNWT as outlined in collaboratively developed governance and management plans.
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This is the fourth in a series of profiles about the staff, leaders, and community members who are hard at work implementing Łutsël K’é Dene First Nation's vision for the Thaidene Nëné Indigenous Protected Area. You can read the other profiles here.
Growing up, Jason Michel didn’t spend a lot of time in town and he preferred it that way: “I was raised travelling on the land with my parents, Mary-Jane and Antoine Michael, and sleeping in a tent. I loved that. It was more fun out there than in town.” You can imagine how happy Jason was then when he was offered one of four full-time guardian positions with Ni Hat’ni Dene in January 2020. Not only would he get paid to spend time on the land, but he would also have the opportunity to pass on what he had learned from his parents.
Jason is a senior guardian, which means that one of his responsibilities is to pass along traditional practices and knowledge to with the junior guardians and the youth who are part of the summer crew. One value he shares with them is the importance of listening to the elders: “They are wiser than us. What they say goes. If they don’t think it’s right, they tell us.”
Inspired by the elders, Jason takes his role as a watcher of the land very seriously. He feels a deep responsibility as Łutsël K’é Dene and a senior guardian with Ni Hat’ni Dene to “protect the land.” Patrolling Thaidene Nëné, watching over the special places, the animals, and the fish are all part of his responsibilities as a guardian. As important as being a good steward is being a good host: “I enjoy welcoming people to Thaidene Nëné. I especially like being able to tell visitors that this is our park and that we are protecting our park. It feels good to protect our park.”
While all of Thaidene Nëné is important for Jason, he especially likes spending time at Ɂedacho Kúe (Artillery Lake), where Ni Hat’ni Dene have a cabin, because it is so close to the caribou. Taking care of the caribou is an important part of the guardian program; it is also a key part of the responsibility that Jason feels to the land.
In addition to sharing his experience on the land with other members of the Ni Hat’ni Dene, Jason loves spending time on the land with his wife, Jennifer Michel, and their family and passing on what he knows about the land, language, culture, and history of the Łutsël K’é Dene to his daughter, Desiree, and grandson, Easton.
Thaidene Nëné and the Łutsël K’é Dene First Nation are the subject of the season finale of BirdNote's new podcast, Threatened.
Threatened offers sound-rich stories about the enduring connections between birds, people, and landscapes.
Listen as community members Iris Catholique, Florence Catholique, Shonto Catholique, and Steve Nitah introduce the world to the Land of the Ancestors. In addition to allowing for the continuation of the Dënesųłıné way of life, the Thaidene Nëné Indigenous Protected Area, which was designated by the community in 2019 and which includes a national park reserve, a territorial protected area, and soon a wildlife conservation area, is that it conserves critical habitat for billions of birds. 6.5 million acres of critical habitat to be exact!
You can listen to the episode here. You can also subscribe to Threatened on:
This is the third in a series of profiles about the staff, leaders, and community members who are hard at work implementing Łutsël K’é Dene First Nation's vision for the Thaidene Nëné Indigenous Protected Area. You can read the other profiles here.
Like the other Ni Hat’ni Dene guardians, Denecho Catholique feels pretty lucky to be part of the crew: “I get to do what I love, which is travel on the land.” Two of Denecho’s favourite places to visit in Thaidene Nëné are Kaché (Fort Reliance) and Pike’s Portage. The latter is a special trail for Łutsël K’é Dene that crosses the treeline, connecting Kache to ɂedacho Kúe (Artillery Lake). “It’s a different country up there,” Denecho explains, referring to the barrenlands, or hazú in Dënesųłıné.
As part of the Ni Hat’ni Dene crew, Denecho is also able to visit places in his ancestral territory he’s never been to. In the spring of 2020, for instance, the guardians travelled to Tł’ombálı Tué (Tent Lake), the place where his father was raised. This experience was especially meaningful because Denecho was able to travel there with his dad, Herman Catholique, and Herman hadn’t been to Tł’ombálı Tué in 40 years. As Denecho visits places both familiar and new in Thaidene Nëné with Ni Hat’ni Dene, he is honing his skills as a land user. In particular, he notes, “I’ve learned how to travel and navigate better.”
Before he was hired as a junior guardian in January 2020, Denecho worked with Ni Hadi Xa (People Watching the Land Together), the environmental monitoring program for Gahcho Kué Diamond Mine. While he enjoyed being a monitor, the position with Ni Hat’ni Dene has allow Denecho to be closer to his family, including his twin daughters, McKinley and Tthaili. Both girls love spending time on the land with their dad, whether they are going out on the big lake or visiting with their grandma, Irene Catholique, at her place on the Snowdrift River.
Denecho is more than a role model for his daughters. In his words, “As a Ni Hat’ni Dene guardian, I am a role model for the younger generations. That makes me feels good. It makes me feel special.”
Whether he’s teaching local youth traditional practices, informing visitors about how to travel respectfully in Thaidene Nëné, keeping an eye on important cultural and historic sites, or assisting with fire fighting, Denecho is proud to be a watcher of the land, a Ni Hat’ni Dene.
We are the Lutsel K’e Dene First Nation. Our vision for Thaidene Nëné is:
Nuwe néné, nuwe ch'anıé yunedhé xa (Our land, our culture for the future).
We’re working with our partners to permanently protect Thaidene Nëné—part of our
huge and bountiful homeland around and beyond the East Arm of Tu Nedhé.