This land has tons of stories to tell.
The Place Where God Began
The journey of a lifetime along the Thelon River.
For more than 40 years, the Lutsel K’e Dene First Nation has been working to establish a protected area in their remote homeland in the Northwest Territories.
“Our people have a connection to the land,” says Dora Enzoe, Lutsel K’e Dene First Nation chief. “They grasp it, they understand it—it’s our way of life.”
Located far from any city, Thaidene Nene “Land of the Ancestors” sits just south of the Arctic Circle.
In this stark tundra country, herds of migrating barren-ground caribou, musk ox and moose browse under the watchful gaze of wolves, foxes and bears.
Migratory songbirds and waterfowl arrive here each summer to breed along the region’s many lakes and rivers.
At a Crossroads
Despite its wildness, Thaidene Nene sits in a region that’s seen the largest mineral staking rush in the history of North America.
During peak activity in 2004, an estimated 70 million acres were staked for claims across the Northwest Territory and Nunavut—mostly driven by diamond exploration.
In response, the Conservancy has joined the Lutsel K’e community in their quest to establish the Thaidene Nene national park reserve and stem the threat of mining on 8.3 million acres.
If combined with the adjacent Thelon Basin, the proposed area could protect more than 23 million acres, creating the second largest protected area in Canada.
Today, Lutsel K’e’s vision is nearing the final stage of negotiations with Parks Canada.
The Conservancy supports the Lutsel K’e Dene First Nation in a way that combines modern science with Indigenous knowledge:
- Mapping and conservation planning expertise
- Funding for First Nation-led park operations and programs
Thaidene Nene represents a new form of protected area—one that enables Indigenous people to steward their traditional territory for generations to come.
Hope for the Next Generation
For Dene youth faced with the pressures of a western world, the ties that bind their way of life to the land are always more tenuous.
Every impending road and mine threatens to sever these connections.
In 2011, the Conservancy led a two-week canoe journey with local guides and Dene youth into the Thelon Game Sanctuary, located adjacent to the Thaidene Nene proposed protected area.
For the Dene, the upper Thelon River is "the place where God began," the area where their creator placed them on Earth.
“The trip was an adventure I’ll never forget,” says Lutsel K’e Dene youth, Damien Kailek. “Despite the bugs and rain, it was incredible to see a land I’ve never seen before…our land.”
The expedition was an opportunity to strengthen the bond Damien and his peers have with their homeland—and prepare them to one day steward this vast region.
Today, Damien has already embarked on this path to look after his traditional homeland. He secured a job last summer as a rafting guide on the world-renowned Nahanni River inside Nahanni National Park.
Damien’s experience on the Thelon expedition gave him valuable skills to become a guide—experience he may one day be able to use sharing his cultural heritage with visitors from around the world in Thaidene Nene.
The Conservancy supports a new trust to fund the First Nation’s long-term management of the park’s operations and programs—including training new park rangers from the community.
Modern Science Meets Ancient Connections
Thaidene Nene “Land of the Ancestors” is a place where people’s connections to the land spans generations.
Even the trails they use to hunt caribou for survival are still etched in the landscape.
The Thaidene Nene project is an opportunity to safeguard these ancient connections while leveraging cutting-edge conservation to create Canada’s second largest protected area.
Inspired? Your support can help us support the Lutsel K’e Dene First Nation as they save their “Land of the Ancestors” for generations.