Deh Cho to protect their own wilderness
Leaders turn down invite to NWT-wide conference on protected areas

by Ralph Plath
Northern News Services

FORT SIMPSON (Mar 07/97) - The Deh Cho First Nations have opted to arrange their own gathering to discuss the development of protected areas instead of attending the government organized meeting in Inuvik this week.

Federal and territorial government administrators set the two-day meeting to talk about the development of parks around areas of traditional significance but no Deh Cho leaders will be attending.

"Leaders of communities that have been working on parks development for several years feel that it is more effective to continue their own processes," stated a press release issued by the Deh Cho First Nations Sunday.

Deh Cho First Nations leaders say they want to maintain their roles as "keepers of the lands" and have actively pursued their people's intention to implement their inherent right to self-government, which includes continuing to exercise their jurisdiction over lands and resources.

Though the Deh Cho First Nations want to identify traditionally significant areas for protection, the release says they want to do it themselves.

"At this time, our leaders feel that we are not likely to achieve our objectives in Inuvik, given the approach that has been taken to arranging that meeting," the press release stated.

While there are a few existing federal and territorial protected areas, First Nations leaders said they want protection of an entire watershed and that the federal government hasn't included any protected areas in the Deh Cho territory in current plans.

The Deh Cho First Nations said they support the federal plan to identify additional protected areas but that designation must be made in conjunction with Deh Cho First Nations members.

Three years ago, the Deh Cho First Nations established a working group to develop a regional land and resources strategy. The work has been turned over to the elders committee, which sits with the leadership, for fine tuning and guidance with implementation by the communities.

None of the initiatives have been completed but government-sponsored programs that supported them have been stopped, the Deh Cho First Nations added.

Future plans by the Deh Cho First Nations include a gathering to develop their own strategies, with invitations to people and organizations with experience in park development, as well as neighboring Dene governments from Akaitcho and Dogrib territory.