Pristine plateau
Deh Cho site first advanced under protected areas strategy

Richard Gleeson
Northern News Services

HORN PLATEAU (Oct 11/99) - It was once a gathering place for people of the Deh Cho and a promising hunting ground when times were lean for those living below. There was always good hunting and fishing to be found on the Horn Plateau.

As Wrigley elder Felix Tale said, "When we used to live along the river, when there was no rabbit or game we would come up to Willow Lake (the largest lake on the plateau) to get supplies."

The plateau is referred to by elders in the area as "the big sponge," for the purifying effect they believe it has on water that runs off it.

The 60-kilometre long plateau rises abruptly from the flatlands surrounding it, and is home to woodland caribou, beaver, muskrat, moose, lynx and fish.

In keeping with the community-based process outlined by the protected areas strategy, the site was nominated for protected area status by the Liidlii Kue First Nation of Fort Simpson.

"Our elders said when we do anything we are to do it seven generations ahead, so it will be here for our children," said Liidlii Kue First Nation Chief Rita Cli.

At the end of a workshop held late last month at a lodge on the shores of Willow Lake, Cli said elders related stories of life at the plateau, and in one voice said it needed to be protected.

"They've seen the scars left on other parts of the land and they want to prevent that," said Cli.

During the workshop elders passed on their experience and knowledge of the area to biologists and environmentalists.

The day the two-week workshop wrapped up, a Twin Otter full of government officials, environmentalists and a couple of media types paid a visit to the camp where it was held.

Among the visitors was new NWT Senator Nick Sibbeston. The visit was his first official public appearance as a senator.

"I'm quickly realizing what being a senator means in the NWT -- it's where people can come up to you and ask you for favours," he said to some good natured chuckles.

Sibbeston, fluent in South Slavey, acknowledged the site has been essential to the people's survival to their good health," and said he looked forward to the site being preserved for future generations.

Among those on hand to welcome Sibbeston and the other guests was Liidlii Kue band councillor, Jonas Antoine.

Antoine said trails hundreds of years old leading up to the plateau have been identified, as well as numerous burial sites.

Several steps remain before the plateau gains protected status.

"The main thing that has to happen next is that it needs to get the official blessing of the Deh Cho region," explained Bill Carpenter of World Wildlife Fund Canada. Carpenter has been working behind the scenes along with DIAND officials to shepherd the initiative through the process.