“The land is very fertile. It is very good land, very beautiful land…The land is our home. We have to protect what we have lived on all our life,” Łutsël K’é Elder Albert Boucher told the members of Thaidene Nëné Xá Dá Yáłtı—the operational management board for the Thaidene Nëné Indigenous Protected Area—during a recent meeting in his home community.
Thaidene Nëné Xá Dá Yáłtı means the people that speak for Thaidene Nëné in Dënesųłıné yatı. Though appointed by the Łutsël K’é Dene First Nation, the Government of Canada, and the Government of the Northwest Territories (GNWT)—the three parties to the establishment agreements—the seven board members speak only for the land, the water, the plants, the animals, and the people that call Thaidene Nëné home, not for the parties that appointed them.
The board’s first meeting in February 2021 was largely an orientation. Presentations about the history of the Indigenous protected area and the establishment agreements that created Thaidene Nëné helped the new board members understand the origins of Xá Dá Yáłtı, as well as its mandate and authorities.
The board members’ orientation continued at the April meeting with implementation updates from each of the parties. Senior staff from Łutsël K’é, Parks Canada, and the GNWT brought the board members up to date on activities related to policy development, staffing, infrastructure, and programming. The focus of this meeting, though, was the board’s governance policies. These policies are critical to the board’s work, which includes developing a management plan for Thaidene Nëné and making decisions about cultural promotion, ecological protection, access and use permits, and research and monitoring.
The establishment agreements for Thaidene Nëné make clear that Xá Dá Yáłtı is to develop “its own operating procedures and rules for the performance of its functions.” Work on these procedures began in February with discussions of guiding principles, member roles and responsibilities, and how meetings will be conducted. A draft governance document was reviewed and refined at the April meeting.
The board members also discussed consensus decision making in more detail. Thaidene Nëné Xá Dá Yáłtı was designed with Indigenous governance in mind. The first point in the board process section of the establishment agreements states: “Thaidene Nëné Xá Dá Yáłtı will make all decisions by consensus.” JC Catholique, one of Łutsël K’é’s appointees to the operational management board, explains how consensus decision making works in Dene communities, “When any kind of situation happens, we come together. We talk about it and come to an agreement. Everyone has a say and we all agree to the final outcome.”
Elder Albert Boucher attended the meetings, which are open to the public, listening through translation as the parties provided updates and the board members discussed governance. On both days, he asked to speak to the board. Albert spoke about the importance of the land to Łutsël K’é Dene and the history of the protected area. He also explained the spirit and intent of the elders’ original mandate to protect Thaidene Nëné.
On Friday, he told the board, “The elders have given us the words and we have to keep those words. We are the ones that are carrying on our elders words.” Drawing on those words, he encouraged the board members to work together, to make decision by consensus, and to engage the community, including elders and youth, as they chart a path forward for Thaidene Nëné.
Albert’s presence at and participation in the meetings are further evidence of the ways in which Thaidene Nëné Xá Dá Yáłtı is re-imagining protected and conserved areas. As Steve Ellis, senior advisor to the Łutsël K’é Dene First nation, observed after Albert spoke on Thursday: “You can’t make any decisions without elders. That’s Indigenous governance.”
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.