Steven Nitah, a Dene from the Northwest Territories, negotiated a protected area in the heart of diamond mining country and his traditional territories. As Steve will tell you, this protected area, five times the size of Prince Edward Island, is an essential part of reconciliation for his people because it’s about co-governance.
Canada has a dark history of bypassing Indigenous treaty rights to take land for national parks. Steven has helped shift negotiations between Indigenous communities and the Government of Canada, from debating rights to agreeing on shared responsibilities. He says government and Indigenous communities have a shared duty to co-manage the land.
Steven’s optimism brings us closer to a future where reconciliation exists through protecting ecologically and culturally significant lands
Steven Nitah was raised by his great grandparents out on the land in Łutsël K’é Dene First Nation in the Northwest Territories. Elected to the Northwest Territories Legislative Assembly in 1999, he served as the Chair of the Special Committee on the Review of the Official Languages Act.
After his four-year term as an MLA, Nitah took the position of president and CEO of the Denesoline Corporation, the economic development arm of the Łutsël K’é before transitioning to being their Negotiator in the Akaitcho land claims process.
Elected Chief of Łutsël K’é Dene First Nation in 2008, and under his watch, the Ni Hatni Dene Guardians program began. Nitah and his team successfully negotiated establishment agreements with the federal government and the Government of Northwest Territories creating the Thaidene Nëné Indigenous Protected Area, National Park and Territorial Protected Area in August 2019.
Nitah served as core member of the Indigenous Circle of Experts from 2017-2018, contributing to a historic report, We Rise Together, about “achieving the Pathway to Canada Target 1 through the creation of Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas in the spirit and practice of reconciliation.”
>> 13:22: We made treaty on July 25th, 1900. We agreed to share the land. We agreed to manage, help co-manage those lands and co-benefit from those lands. That was the spirit and intent with which we entered the treaty. And that’s what we honour and uphold in our relationship with Canada. Unfortunately, that’s not the case with Canada. They didn’t enter into the treaty with that spirit and intent, they entered the treaty with a mandate to get to an agreement, agree to whatever, knowing that they have an assimilation policy in the works, and knowing that their intent was to pretty much get rid of Indigenous Peoples, do a full assimilation. 120 years later, we have a different relationship now.
>> 15:40: The land claim process in Canada’s approach to negotiations has been confrontational by design. I liken it to trying to negotiate a divorce agreement when what we’re really intending to do is to negotiate a relationship agreement.
>> 22:08: Well, my nation has been surviving and thriving within that region for years. What threatened that is the destruction of the land and ecosystem. We have a huge territory in the Northwest Territories but it’s a very sensitive ecological environment.
>> 07:56 It was a good day when we agreed that the government of Northwest Territories was going to create a Protected Areas Act, and the road [Michael Miltenberger] took in leading the Government of Northwest Territories in developing that Protected Areas Act was ground breaking in Canada and in the world. That was huge for conservation in Northwest Territories but was humongous for the reconciliation road.