Thaidene Nëné – Land of the Ancestors


  • Steven Nitah, lead negotiator, Łutsël K’e Dene First Nation
  • Jessica Dunkin, researcher and writer
  • Justine Townsend and Andrew Paul, on behalf of the IISAAK OLAM Foundation
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Story of Thaidene Nëné - Land of the Ancestors by IISAAK OLAM Foundation is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License
Members of the Łutsël K’é Dene First Nation celebrate the creation of the Thaidene Nëné Indigenous Protected Area in August 2019. People are dancing in a circle around a fire to the drum with a tipi in the background.

Photo Credit: Pat Kane

Glossary of Dënesųłıné Terms

Utsingi Point

Mouth of the river, also Fort Reliance

Łutsël K’é
Name of the Łutsël K’é Dene First Nation and their main community

Ni Hat’ni Dene

“Watchers of the land” (name of the Indigenous Guardians initiative)

Nuwe néné, nuwe ch’anıé yunedhé xa

“Our land, our culture for the future”

Thaidene Nëné

Land of the Ancestors

Tsąkuı Thedá

Lady of the Falls

Thank you to Steven Nitah for providing the audio recording of these Dënesųłıné Words and Expressions


“Our vision for Thaidene Nëné 1 is: Nuwe néné, nuwe ch’anıé yunedhé xa (Our land, our culture for the future).” (

In 2019, Łutsël K’é Dene First Nation (Łutsël K’é) designated 26,376 square kilometres (6.5 million acres) of their lands and waters including the East Arm of Tu Nedhé (Great Slave Lake) in the Northwest Territories (NWT) an Indigenous Protected Area using their own Dene laws.

“Everything that we have done is for the future. That’s what our elders used to say: yunedhé xa, which means for the future. All of this work is for future generations. We are leaving them a legacy.” (Darryl Marlowe, Chief)

After more than 50 years of advocacy for the land and their rights as Indigenous people, Łutsël K’é signed agreements with national and territorial governments (Parks Canada and the Government of the NWT). Thaidene Nëné, or “Land of the Ancestors” in Dënesųłıné, contains four protected area designations:

  1. “Indigenous Protected Area” under Łutsël K’é Dene law
  2. “National Park Reserve” under the National Parks Act
  3. “Territorial Protected Area” under the NWT Protected Areas Act (2019) and “Wilderness Conservation Area” under the NWT Wildlife Act.

Thaidene Nëné is a “reconciliation story…For Łutsël K’é, the relationship within Thaidene Nëné is an expression and an example of what reconciliation looks like for us.” (Steven Nitah, Łutsël K’é Chief Negotiator for Thaidene Nëné)

The traditional territory of the Łutsël K’é Dene is 200,000 km2. As Steven Nitah, former Chief of Łutsël K’é and the community’s Chief Negotiator for Thaidene Nëné, says, “We have a huge territory and with it comes huge responsibility.” The people of Łutsël K’é have a long history with Thaidene Nëné. According to Nitah, it’s “a place we’ve been managing since time immemorial.”

Initially targeted for protection by Parks Canada in 1969-70, then Chief Pierre Catholique said ‘no’ over fears that the creation of the East Arm National Park would restrict Łutsël K’é’s access to their territory. The community repeated this message many times over subsequent years. Faced with development pressure, Łutsël K’é sought out Parks Canada as a partner in the early 2000s to ensure their territory would be protected. The Government of the Northwest Territories (GNWT) became a partner in 2013.

Thaidene Nëné Xá Dá Yáłtı, which means “those who speak for Thaidene Nëné” in Dënesųłıné, is the board responsible for the management of the Thaidene Nëné Indigenous Protected Area.

A $30 million trust fund provides the conservation financing required for the long-term stewardship of this area by Łutsël K’é Dene.

Ni Hat’ni Dene–meaning “watchers of the land”–are the Indigenous Guardians that care for Thaidene Nëné and interact with visitors.

Learn more by downloading the Thaidene Nëné Strategic Plan

  1. Pronounced THIGH-den-nay NEN-ay.
  2. Indigenous Protected Area (IPA) is a type of Indigenous Protected and Conserved Area (IPCA). The term IPA is used more commonly in the Northwest Territories.

The Place


Thaidene Nëné is located within the traditional territory of the Akaitcho First Nations, primarily within the homeland of the Łutsël K’é Dene First Nation.

Geography and Ecosystems

Thaidene Nëné includes the East Arm of Tu Nedhé (Great Slave Lake), the deepest freshwater body (614m) in North America. Covering 26,376 square kilometres (6.5 million acres),Thaidene Nëné protects a globally important carbon sink in the transition zone between the boreal forest (taiga) and the Arctic tundra.

Łutsël K’é Dene community member catching a fish from a boat

Photo credit: Pat Kane

Łutsël K’é Dene community member enjoying fresh fish on the land

Photo credit: Pat Kane

Culturally Significant Places

Thaidene Nëné also protects places of cultural significance for the Łutsël K’é Dene, including Tsąkuı Thedá (Lady of the Falls), Bet’sı́ghı́ (Utsingi Point), Ɂedacho Túe (Artillery Lake), and Tsąkuı Thedá Dezé (Lockhart River), and Snowdrift River.

“People experience life in different ways. For us Dene people we experience life close to the land. We love our land. It provides a way of life for us.”

(JC Catholique, Board Member, Thaidene Nëné Xá Dá Yáłtı)

Thaidene Nëné is an important and biodiverse area with many cultural keystone species important to the Indigenous peoples of the area including the winged ones, the finned ones, the hooved ones, the pawed ones, and the plants. It is also important wintering habitat for ɂetthën (caribou) (

Map of Łutsël K’é Dene First Nation Place Names & Thaidene Nëné Indigenous Protected Area

Map of Łutsël K’é Dene First Nation Place Names & Thaidene Nëné Indigenous Protected Area

Overview map of Thaidene Nëné Indigenous Protected Area

Overview map of Thaidene Nëné Indigenous Protected Area

Thaidene Nëné Establishment Agreements Summary (2019)

Lutsel K’e Dene Laws and the Origin Story of Thaidene Nëné

Thaidene Nëné was first and foremost established by Łutsël K’é under Dene law. Three laws have shaped Łutsël K’é’s relationship with Thaidene Nëné.

The First Law

“So the first law is to protect [Tsąkuı Thedá]. She’s the heart of Thaidene Nëné…everything flows out from her….Thaidene Nëné protects her watershed.”

(Steven Nitah, Łutsël K’é Chief Negotiator for Thaidene Nëné)

Play the audio below to hear more from Steven Nitah about the first law

The first law is to protect the area around Tsąkuı Thedá, or the Old Lady that Sits in the Falls. The story of Tsąkuı Thedá, as told by Steven Nitah, Łutsël K’é Chief Negotiator for Thaidene Nëné, begins at Ɂedacho Túe (Artillery Lake). Dacho led the people of Łutsël K’é, chasing two giant beavers, toward Tu Nedhé. About halfway down Tsąkuı Thedá Dezé (Lockhart River), the group harvested one of the giant beavers and the meat was shared among the people. An elderly woman wanted beaver blood, but she was refused because there wasn’t enough to go around.

The group continued on towards Tu Nedhé (Great Slave Lake), following the second beaver. When they arrived to Desnethché (the mouth of the river), they realized the old woman was no longer with them, so Dacho sent two young runners back to look for her. They found the old woman at the last camp. She told the young people that, in her despair, she had been communicating with the Creator. Eventually, the Creator came to her and asked her to volunteer for eternity to sit in that spot and to provide those who visited her with any help they need—physical, emotional, spiritual.

By the time the young men found the woman, the rocks were already forming around her legs and arms. She said to them, As long as I am respected, I will be sitting here until the end of time.

On Tsąkuı Thedá: “That area is special…sacred. Every time I go there, it brings me back in time. Everything is clean, quiet, all kinds of wildlife around. It is both a reminder and an example of how things should be not only for us, but for people all over the world.”
(JC Catholique, Board Member, Thaidene Nëné Xá Dá Yáłtı)

On Tsąkuı Thedá: “I believe that she exists, that she helps people when you believe in her, that she heals people. There is strong evidence of our ancestors being helped in the past.”
(James Marlowe, Board Member, Thaidene Nëné Xá Dá Yáłtı)

“Places like Tsąkuı Thedá reminds us of our continued responsibility to ensure that all of our relations have a place that they can call home, a healthy environment.”
(Steven Nitah, Łutsël K’é Chief Negotiator for Thaidene Nëné)

The Second Law

The second law came from the direction provided by the Elders and community of Łutsël K’é to establish Thaidene Nëné. The Elders initiated and directed the whole initiative. They wanted to protect Tsąkuı Thedá (Lady of the Falls) and the watershed from the mining staking rush resulting from the discovery of diamonds in Łutsël K’é’s territory.

The Elders created a map showing the area they wanted to protect. When the membership of the community accepted these boundaries and named the area Thaidene Nëné, this was the second law. All decisions made by Łutsël K’é were done at the membership level. Council resolutions were only used as needed for legal reasons.

There were at least four years of internal engagement within the community before Łutsël K’é began engaging with Crown governments and partners.

The Third Law

The third law came from the direction of the members of Łutsël K’é Dene First Nation. In 2019, the membership voted to support the establishment agreements with 88% approval.

A critical part of the negotiation process was ensuring that the members of Łutsël K’é understood the agreements and that every member, no matter where they lived, had the opportunity to vote on accepting or not accepting the Thaidene Nëné Establishment Agreements.

“[Łutsël K’é] members are seeing new futures and new possibilities that don’t require them to be anything other than who they are.”
(Larry Innes, Legal Counsel)

“This consistency of vision has allowed Łutsël K’é to achieve its goals as a community.”
(Stephen Ellis, Senior Advisor)

Play the audio below to hear Steven Nitah describe the second and third laws

Accompanying Crown Legislation

Territorial Legislation

Thaidene Nëné was the first territorial protected area in the NWT to be designated under the territorial Protected Areas Act, which became law in July 2019. This legislation was established with extensive input from Indigenous peoples in the NWT. Łutsël K’é was an active and valued member of the Technical Working Group, which played a critical role in the development of the protected areas legislation.

This 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” (GNWT, n.d.).

The legislation is unique in Canada in that it explicitly recognizes the interconnections between cultural continuity and biodiversity protection. The Act requires the Government of the Northwest Territories (GNWT) to work in partnership with Indigenous governments at every step from identifying candidate protected areas to the negotiation of establishment agreements.

The legislation will help ensure that conservation priorities identified in Healthy Land, Healthy People: GNWT Priorities for Advancement of Conservation Network Planning 2016-2021 are met (GNWT, n.d.).

The GNWT has also designated an additional 3,120 km2 of the Thaidene Nëné Indigenous Protected Area as a Wildlife Conservation Area under the NWT’s Wildlife Act.

During the process of establishing Thaidene Nëné, the GNWT issued a Land Withdrawal Order which ensured that lands targeted for protection were removed from industrial development in perpetuity.

National Legislation

Parks Canada designated a portion of the Thaidene Nëné Indigenous Protected Area as a National Park Reserve under the National Parks Act. Many regulations under it will be used to protect Thaidene Nene National Park Reserve.

Establishment Agreements

The establishment agreements (one between Łutsël K’é and Parks Canada and one between Łutsël K’é and the Government of the Northwest Territories) set out the guidelines for the governance of Thaidene Nëné. The Deninu K’ue First Nation, the Northwest Territory Métis Nation, and the Yellowknives Dene First Nation are also signatories to the establishment agreements.

“I’m glad we took the initiative to develop relationships with two Crown governments. At a time when people are talking about reconciliation, we are an example for the rest of the country.” (Darryl Marlowe, Chief)

A group of eight people are seated around a table at the signing ceremony for the establishment of Thaidene Nëné. The group includes Addie Jonasson (Board Member, Thaidene Nëné Xá Dá Yáłtı), Darryl Marlowe ( Łutsel K’e Dene First Nation Chief), Catherine McKenna ( former federal minister for Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna), Michael McLeod ( MP for the Northwest Territories) Tom Beaulieu (former MLA Tom Beaulieu). Three people are reaching across the table to shake hands during the signing ceremony. There are four additional people standing against a wall, witnessing the ceremony, including Prarie Desjarlais (Thaidene Nëné Coordinator), Stephanie Poole (Łutsel K’e Dene First Nation Councilor), Steven Nitah (Thaidene Nëné Negotiator), Ron Desjarlais (Łutsel K’e Dene First Nation Councilor) and Ronald Fatt (Łutsel K’e Dene First Nation Councilor). The ceremony is taking place in a building with log walls.

Relationship Agreements

The Thaidene Nëné establishment agreements are relationship agreements that recognize Łutsël K’é’s authority to maintain a relationship with Thaidene Nëné. Łutsël K’é will continue to act as stewards on an equal basis with the GNWT and Parks Canada. Thaidene Nëné is and will continue to be a place where Indigenous peoples can practice their inherent, treaty, and Aboriginal rights.

“Through Thaidene Nëné, Łutsël K’é is re-setting the power dynamics with Crown governments.” (Stephen Ellis, Senior Advisor)

Giving Voice to Caribou

The establishment agreement with the Government of NWT includes a Wildlife Conservation Area containing caribou wintering grounds. Since the agreement gives voice to the caribou, the conservation area will remain until the caribou communicate that they don’t need that area anymore. Knowledge held by Łutsël K’é Dene and Western science will be used to make that determination.

Timeline and Key Milestones

Reproduced and adapted from the Thaidene Nëné: Land of the Ancestors website:



“​Thaidene Nëné represents a historic new partnership between Indigenous and public governments to protect natural and cultural heritage, and foster local economic development.” (

Thaidene Nëné Xá Dá Yáłti (Management Board)

Thaidene Nëné Xá Dá Yáłti, meaning “the people that speak for Thaidene Nëné” in Dënesųłıné, is the innovative operational management board that uses consensus-based, shared decision making to oversee the stewardship and management of Thaidene Nëné. Xá Dá Yáłti has representatives appointed by Łutsël K’é, Parks Canada, and the Government of the Northwest Territories (GNWT). As Steven Nitah describes, the parties “stand shoulder to shoulder as equals.”

Thaidene Nene, Land of the Ancestors, infographic

Source: Thaidene Nene, Land of the Ancestors, 2021

The People that Speak for Thaidene Nëné

Once appointed, the individuals on the board no longer represent the parties who appointed them. Rather they speak only for Thaidene Nëné and for those that have no voice. The three parties make decisions based on the board’s recommendations. If there is conflict, there is a dispute resolution mechanism. No action can be taken on the disputed matter until the parties have reconciled and reached agreement.

“The committee helped to make sure that we protected the area, the land, the water, the animals. We wanted to make sure that our way of life wasn’t disrupted, so we would continue to live as we have been living since time immemorial.”

(Addie Jonasson, Board Member, Thaidene Nëné Xá Dá Yáłtı)


“We don’t bring our politics to the board. We bring our responsibilities for Thaidene Nëné to the board.” (Steven Nitah, Łutsël K’é Chief Negotiator for Thaidene Nëné)

Direction from the Elders

The direction to create a board that speaks for Thaidene Nëné came from the Elders and the Thaidene Nëné Advisory Committee. Łutsël K’é’s foundational relationship with the land and their culture was integral to informing the co-governance model.

“It’s an example that’s garnered a lot of attention,” says Steven Nitah, Łutsël K’é Chief Negotiator for Thaidene Nëné, and was built off other “giants” like the Gwaii Haanas Archipelago Management Board on Haida Gwaii (British Columbia) and other best practices from around the world.

Respect for Multiple Knowledge Systems

Multiple knowledge systems inform the relationship agreements and the work of Thaidene Nëné Xá Dá Yáłti. This is significant because typically co-management boards favour technical and bureaucratic knowledge over Indigenous experience and knowledge–despite it being potentially much more relevant. Within Thaidene Nëné, Łutsël K’é does not need permission from government partners to carry out operations.

Community Input

The parties are responsible for creating a Draft Management Plan for Thaidene Nëné that encomapsses the views of all three parties. Thaidene Nëné Xá Dá Yáłti will share the plan through community engagement sessions for input.


Importantly, the three parties share operational responsibilities. When decisions are made by the board, the parties must work together to decide how to operationalize the recommendations. Łutsël K’é is uniquely positioned to carry out their operational responsibilities. Ni Hat’ni Dene, an Indigenous Guardian program started in 2008, is already on the ground. The community also has infrastructure and equipment in place.

“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.”
(Prairie Desjarlais, Ni Hat’ni Dene Coordinator)

Employment Opportunities and Ecotourism

One study suggests that in terms of employment opportunities, the community of Lutsel K’e stands to benefit equally from opportunities generated by Thaidene Nëné than from participating in a diamond mining project that otherwise might have gone ahead in the protected area.

Łutsël K’é is developing and offering ecotourism opportunities such as guided trips and cultural tours that enhance visitor experience, while also providing meaningful employment for community members.

Ni Hat’ni Dene

Three Łutsël K’é Dene Youth Guardians are on a boat with water in the background and land on the horizon. One Youth Guardian is standing in front of the boat on a large rock.

Photo credit: Pat Kane

Ni Hat’ni Dene, which means “Watchers of the Land” in Dënesųłıné, are the Indigenous Guardians of Thaidene Nëné. Started in 2008, Ni Hat’ni Dene are responsible for protecting the ancestral lands of the Łutsël K’é Dene for future generations.

Ni Hat’ni Dene Guardians:

  • Protect and maintain cultural sites
  • Welcome visitors to Thaidene Nëné
  • Monitor the area (environmental change, visitors, cultural sites, etc.)
  • Share knowledge–cultural and scientific–with younger generations

“Ni Hat’ni Dene means watchers of the land in Dënesųłıné. The Ni Hat’ni Dene Guardians are the stewards of Thaidene Nëné. They assert Łutsël K’é Dene First Nation’s Indigenous rights and authority in Thaidene Nëné through their presence and activities on the land and water. Ni Hat’ni Dene crews practice a traditional subsistence lifestyle, maintaining the integrity of cultural sites, conducting environmental monitoring, and interacting with visitors to Thaidene Nëné.”
(Thaidene Nëné, Land of the Ancestors, 2020)

On Ni Hat’ni Dene: “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 Desjarlais, Ni Hat’ni Dene Coordinator)

“As a Ni Hat’ni Dene guardian, I am a role model for the younger generations. That makes me feel good. It makes me feel special.”
(Denecho Catholique, Junior Guardian)

Funding and Employment

Stable funding through the Thaidene Nëné Fund has allowed the program to employ four full-time year-round Guardians, as well as a full-time program coordinator. Ni Hat’ni Dene also provides work to other Łutsël K’é members through casual employment (e.g. monitors, cooks, mechanics, etc.). Łutsël K’é plans to double the number of full-time Guardian positions by 2025.

Roles and Responsibilities

At the request of Łutsël K’é, Parks Canada and the GNWT are responsible for enforcement and regulation. Ni Hat’ni Dene help educate people about Łutsël K’é Dene protocols and responsibilities.

Youth Interns

In the summer months, youth interns (18-24 year olds) join senior guardians to ensure knowledge is shared with future generations. Youth learn and practice many skills including harvesting, navigation, safety, language, and weather interpretation. They also share their knowledge and expertise with the guardians in return.

“Through the program, young people develop a solid understanding of their roles and responsibilities as co-governing stewards of Thaidene Nëné…” (Thaidene Nëné, Land of the Ancestors, 2020)


A 2016 analysis of the value of Indigenous Guardians programs in the NWT found that a $4.5 million investment in Ni Hat’ni Dene resulted in socio-economic, environmental, and cultural benefits equivalent to $11.1 million (Social Ventures Australia 2016).

“…Łutsël K’é is actually the training ground for capacity not only for itself to implement Thaidene Nëné but for its government partners as well.”
(Stephen Ellis, 2020)

Thaidene Nëné Fund

How it Works

The Thaidene Nëné Fund is a $30 million trust that allows Łutsël K’é to carry out its responsibilities within Thaidene Nëné. Łutsël K’é, with support from Nature United, raised $15 million dollars from charitable organizations, which was then matched by the federal government. The trust fund is owned and managed by Łutsël K’é.

The annual interest and investment income funds management and operation responsibilities. These include the operation of Ni Hat’ni Dene, capacity building and training, business development and investment in conservation economy initiatives, and activities for sustaining and promoting the Łutsël K’é Dene way of life.

This innovative financing mechanism enables Łutsël K’é to cover the cost of its operational responsibilities for Thaidene Nëné, which is estimated at $1 million annually.

Federal and Territorial Investments

In the event that the trust underperforms, Parks Canada has agreed to cover any funding shortfall. Parks Canada has also committed to $32 million in operational spending on Thaidene Nëné within the first 12 years following establishment and $3 million annually after that. The Government of the NWT anticipated a minimum spend of $290,000 annually within Thaidene Nëné in the first three years after establishment.


Trustees are appointed to manage the fund’s investments and Łutsël K’é decides how the revenues will be used within the guidelines provided by the establishment agreements. Depending on the trust’s performance, there may be money available. In this case, community members and organizations could submit proposals to Chief and Council for their considerations.


A Muskox is looking at the camera. It is standing at the bottom of a grassy hill with trees and blue skies in the background

Photo credit: Pat Kane

Łutsël K’é’s primary partners in co-governing Thaidene Nëné are the Government of Canada (Parks Canada) and the Government of the Northwest Territories (GNWT). Thaidene Nëné is just the most recent example of Łutsël K’é’s stewardship and protection of the Land of the Ancestors, a relationship of care and reciprocity that stretches back to time immemorial. Łutsël K’é invited Parks Canada and the GNWT to participate in the protection of Thaidene Nëné as partners.

Łutsël K’é initially approached Parks Canada for three reasons. First, the Łutsël K’é Dene have a treaty with Canada, known locally as the Treaty of 1900 and nationally as Treaty 8. Second, Łutsël K’é wanted access to protected areas legislation that would be recognized nationally and globally. Finally, Łutsël K’é wanted to develop a conservation economy, and tourism and marketing are some of Parks Canada’s strengths.

With the devolution of responsibility for Crown land from the federal to the territorial government in 2014 and the GNWT’s development–in partnership with Indigenous governments, including Łutsël K’é–of protected areas legislation, which represented an opportunity to ensure a greater area of Thaidene Nëné was protected, the Government of the NWT was also invited to the table.

“We initiated [Thaidene Nëné] because of our responsibility. It’s important to understand that Łutsël K’é was the leader in this whole process. It was choices that we made that led to the relationship that we have now.”
(Steven Nitah, Lutsel K’e Chief Negotiator for Thaidene Nene)

Numerous other partners played a critical role in bringing the elders’ vision of Thaidene Nëné to fruition through administrative support, advocacy, and contributing to the establishment of the Thaidene Nëné Fund. Other key partners include Nature United, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS), Ducks Unlimited Canada, and the Indigenous Leadership Initiative.

Industrial Pressures and Land Withdrawals

A portrait of Łutsël K’é Dene community member and Thaidene Nëné management board member, JC Catholique. JC appears to be on a boat and is wearing sunglasses, an orange life jacket and black ball cap. There is water in the background and blue skies.

Photo credit: Pat Kane

“We are protecting the heart of our traditional territory from development for the long term. We want to ensure that our way of life, our culture, our land, our water, our animals will be protected for many years to come.”
(Darryl Marlowe, Chief)


The homelands of the Łutsël K’é Dene are rich in minerals and have been extensively staked by the mining industry, particularly following the discovery of diamonds and precious metals in the 1990s which spurred an industrial boom.

While Łutsël K’é is not opposed to mining–provided projects meaningfully benefit the community and are conducted in an environmentally responsible manner–the community was concerned about the potential extent of mining in their territory.

“We do support some types of industry because we need to diversify our economies and our young people need to work. So Łutsël K’é is not opposed to development. How development is done, where development is done is something we’re highly keen on representing our interests in.”

(Steven Nitah, Łutsël K’é Chief Negotiator for Thaidene Nëné)

By securing the protection of Thaidene Nëné under Crown laws, Łutsël K’é effectively ensured there would be no mining or mineral exploration within its boundaries. This decision was opposed by the mining industry and the NWT Chamber of Mines. As public support for Thaidene Nëné grew, however, it became harder for companies and investors to continue to pursue mining and development in this area.

First Land Withdrawal

In 1970, the Government of Canada withdrew approximately 7000 square kilometres of land on the East Arm of Tu Nedhé (Great Slave Lake), in anticipation of the creation of East Arm National Park. Though the park never came to be, the land remained under withdrawal. This initial land withdrawal prevented development in the heart of Thaidene Nëné, providing critical protection through the staking rush of the 1990s.

Second Land Withdrawal

The withdrawal of an additional 26,000 km2 for a total of 33,000 km2 in 2007, which was supported by Canada and the GNWT, ensured the protection of a larger area of land while negotiations for Thaidene Nëné were underway.

Through negotiations, the borders of Thaidene Nëné changed somewhat. In the end, 26,376 km2 of the Łutsël K’é Dene’s traditional territory was protected.

Treaties and Agreements

The Thaidene Nëné Establishment Agreements that Łutsël K’é signed with Parks Canada and the GNWT are legal contracts. They are not a modern treaty or a land claim; Łutsël K’é, along with the other member nations of the Akaitcho Territory Government, remains at the negotiating table.

Any potential future land claims or modern treaties Łutsël K’é could sign will apply to Thaidene Nëné. The establishment agreement with Parks Canada identifies areas that Łutsël K’é will likely identify as title lands through the land claim or modern treaty process.

Treaty of 1900 (Treaty 8)

The Thaidene Nëné negotiating team had a mandate from the elders and the community to “respect the spirit and intent with which [Łutsël K’é] entered treaty and build a relationship that speaks to that treaty relationship. So for us, [Thaidene Nëné] is the first implementation of the treaty…as we envisioned it: to share and benefit from the lands”
(Steven Nitah, Łutsël K’é Chief Negotiator for Thaidene Nëné)

On July 25, 1900, the Dene from the area around Tu Nedhé (Great Slave Lake), including Łutsël K’é Dene, signed the Treaty of 1900 (Treaty 8) with the Crown, although the parties had different understandings of the terms of the treaty. Łutsël K’é’s understanding was that the agreement was about sharing and continuing to benefit from the lands and resources and to continue to act in accordance with their responsibilities to their territory.

Since 1992, the Akaitcho First Nations, which includes Deninu Ku’e First Nation, Łutsël K’é Dene First Nation, Smith’s Landing First Nation, and Yellowknives Dene First Nation – Dettah/Ndilo, have been negotiating new and specific provisions to update the Treaty of 1900 (Treaty 8) including self-government for the Akaitcho First Nations.

“The dream of Thaidene Nëné has always been on the mind of our people. If you go back to the signing of Treaty 8 in 1900, you will hear the words: as long as the sun shines, grass grows, and the rivers flow we shall protect our traditional homeland.”
(Iris Catholique, Thaidene Nëné Manager)

Other Agreements

Parks Canada signed the following agreements with the establishment of Thaidene Nëné in August 2019 (Government of Canada, 2020):

  • Establishment Agreement between the Government of Canada and the Łutsël K’é Dene First Nation
  • Impact and Benefit Agreement between the Government of Canada and the Northwest Territory Métis Nation
  • Memorandum of Agreement for Thaidene Nene National Park Reserve of Canada between Her Majesty in Right of Canada and the Government of the NWT (also known as the Land Transfer Agreement)
  • Denesoltiné, an Agreement between the Parks Canada Agency and the Deninu K’ue First Nation
  • Agreement in Principle between the Government of Canada and the Yellowknives Dene First Nation (in absentia)
    • In September 2020, the Government of Canada signed the finalized agreement with the Yellowknives Dene First Nation.





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