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Indigenous Nations are proposing, creating and managing protected areas across the Boreal Forest. These places reflect Indigenous Peoples’ aspirations for the land, and they conserve clean water, intact forests and deep storehouses of carbon for all people.

Indigenous protected areas may be established in collaboration with federal, provincial and territorial governments. They may be designated as national parks, tribal parks or wildlife areas. “Regardless of the official name, a landscape becomes an Indigenous protected area based on the process through which it is created,” writes the Indigenous Leadership Initiative. “In Indigenous protected areas, Indigenous governments play the primary role in identifying the lands for conservation, shaping the goals and managing the land.”

About 185 kilometres east of Yellowknife, for instance, the Lutsel K’e Dene First Nation is co-creating the proposed Thaidene Nene National Park Reserve. This sweep of Boreal Forest is home to moose, musk oxen, caribou herds, and hundreds of thousands of songbirds and waterfowl. It’s also dotted with vibrant wetlands that store deep reserves of carbon. The  proposed national park reserve will encompass 1.4 million hectares of these forest lands, and a nearby territorial park—also co-created with Lutsel K’e—will protect an additional 1.2 million hectares.

Lutsel K’e also ensured the protected areas will be managed with the Ni Hat’ni Dene program, Indigenous Guardians who monitor wildlife, test water quality and interpret cultural sites for visitors.

Gloria Enzo, the director of the Ni Hat’ni Dene program explained, “We are sustaining our traditional territory not only for us but for the whole world. Our ecosystem is so pure, we have so many trees that we are cleaning up a lot of pollution… We are protecting Mother Earth in order for the rest of the world to live on her.”