Since long before provincial land borders were drawn, the Kaska Dena people have lived in BC’s far north, southeast Yukon, and southern Northwest Territories.
Their ancestral lands extend across a wilderness larger than Vancouver Island. Imagine four million hectares of sweeping wilderness: wild rivers, stretches of alpine, canyons, freshwater lakes. A place with no roads and no power lines, filled with diverse wildlife like caribou, moose and mountain goats. A place where you can walk along ancient Indigenous trails for weeks without meeting another human soul.
Dene Kʼéh Kusān: Protecting more of BC
At the heart of the Kaska’s ancestral lands sits the largest intact landscape in BC: Dene Kʼéh Kusān. It means Always Will Be There.
At CPAWS-BC, we’re working with the Kaska Dena to bring Dene Kʼéh Kusān to life. Together, we want to ensure that the Kaska and their ancestral lands will thrive today and in the future. Together, we’ve built a plan for protecting this vital piece of northern BC, which would add 4% to BC’s protected area percentage. We’re humbled to play a role in this work.
In the face of worsening forest fires and severe loss of biodiversity, and in the spirit and practice of reconciliation, we’re asking the federal and BC governments to support the Kaska’s plan for an Indigenous Protected and Conserved Area (IPCA).
This conservation plan builds on existing special management zones inside the Muskwa-Kechika Management Area, designed to sustain and create jobs for Kaska communities and conserve biodiversity. Conservation areas protect animals, plants, and cultural places while minimizing overlap with existing mining, oil, and gas extraction sites.
This plan asks governments to ensure Kaska Territory:
Does not suffer the devastating effects of climate change and biodiversity loss we’re seeing across BC, Canada and around the world
Remains intact, which is critical to preserving Kaska peoples’ material, cultural and spiritual lives
Continues to shelter seven key herds of Whūdzī (Caribou), a species struggling to feed itself and reproduce in other parts of the province
Sustains and creates economic opportunities for Kaska and others in northern communities
Becomes a world-class protected area for British Columbians to explore and enjoy
Creates a climate change safe haven for other at-risk species like Wood Bison, Barn Swallows, Wolverines, Grizzly Bear and more
The Kaska Dena are working with partners to protect Dene K’éh Kusān in a way that creates jobs, supports a thriving Kaska culture, shelters threatened species and becomes a world-class Protected Area. Add your name to the Dene K’éh Kusān Statement of Support here.
Recently, Gillian Staveley—a member of the Kaska Dena in northern BC—sat down with CPAWS-BC to talk about protecting a large swath of ancestral and traditional Kaska Territory. Read on to learn more about Dene Kʼéh Kusān andhow you can support this Indigenous-led conservation initiative.
Editor’s note: this interview has been transcribed, condensed, and formatted with consent.
Kristina: Hi Gillian! I’d love to start by asking you who are you, and who the Kaska Dena are.
Gillian: My name is Gillian Staveley—I’m the Director of Land Stewardship and Culture with the Dena Kayeh Institute. I am also Kaska.
The Kaska Dena are a nation of people who are connected through our culture, our land, our language, our laws. We are a fairly large nation in terms of geography, with our communities placed throughout our ancestral lands in northern BC, southeast Yukon, and a small sliver of the Northwest Territories. We call this area Dena Kayeh, or “the people’s country”.
Kristina: Tell us more about Dene Kʼéh Kusān. What is this project about? How did it begin?
Gillian: Dene Kʼéh Kusān is the Kaska’s Indigeous Protected and Conserved Area (IPCA) proposal within Dena Kayeh—we’re trying to protect 4 million hectares of land and water through it. To us, the phrase Dene Kʼéh Kusān is a reminder that we will always be here. Dene Kʼéh Kusān: as long as our lands are here, and our languages are here, and our laws are here, and our culture is here, then we will be here as Kaska people. It’s all tied together because we believe in the principles of relationality: we are all one.
Kristina: What’s unique about the landscapes and ecosystems in Dene Kʼéh Kusān? What do you see, smell, and hear?
Gillian: When I close my eyes, I think of the regions that are very sacred to me, personally, within the Kaska traditional territory.
I visualize the very sacred headwaters that we have, and the confluences of large rivers. I can also smell the moist moss that’s in the deep soils of our boreal forest. We have such an intact, beautiful forest in our territory—it brings me joy to feel those smells. There’s also other aspects of our lands, like hearing the wind in some of the highest peaks of the Northern Rockies, and being able to traverse them.
You can also feel the heartbeat of our people in certain regions of Dena Kayeh, too, like the subarctic terrain. That’s where we’ve hunted and gathered since time immemorial. It’s those areas that are so important to us as Kaska Dena. We truly believe that we are our land, and it’s up to us to ensure that it remains healthy, because we will also be healthy as a result of that.
Kristina: With Dene Kʼéh Kusān being so large, it provides one, huge, connected landscape for animals that call that land home. What are the animals and plants in this area like?
Gillian: Many different animal, plant, and fish species and medicines also call Dena Kayeh home. I think we know that keeping these regions intact is of utmost importance to their survival. As soon as we create those linear disturbances and development areas, they are impacted greatly.
Creating habitat corridors for these really biodiverse regions in places like Dene Kʼéh Kusān is a very vital conservation strategy. It’s an Indigenous-led one, too, because we know that we can’t just protect pockets of landscape. We need to protect very large areas to be able to ensure that—for example—some of the last northern mountain caribou in our province are thriving, and not just surviving. That’s part of what our IPCA proposal is intended to do.
Kristina: Often, nature and culture are very intertwined with each other. In your eyes, why is it important to protect Dene Kʼéh Kusān from a cultural perspective?
Gillian: In Dene Kʼéh Kusān, we’d be protecting half of the recorded cultural heritage sites in our ancestral territory, Dena Kayeh. That’s the kind of stuff that gets me all choked up! Yes, it’s a wild place, it’s remote, it’s an incredibly vast beautiful area, but it’s also our homeland. Our ancient trails are still walked on today, and our people still go into those remote areas to this day, and celebrate the fact that our people have lived there for over 8,000 years.
They’ve created such wonderful memories in those places—and for us, it’s about reconnecting to what that means to us today, and knowing that we want it to be wild, yes, but we also want it to be cultured.
Kristina: What does leading the protection of your own traditional territories mean to you and the Kaska Dena?
Gillian: For me, protecting Dene Kʼéh Kusān is everything, truly. There is nothing more important than this in my life, and I know I am going to be spending the rest of my life ensuring that happens. I’m not the only one, either. This is who we are as Dena: it’s intrinsically who we are as stewards of our land, in wanting to see it protected. It’s a natural response we all have, and it’s what ties us together in knowing that we’re a nation of people that want the same things. There’s tremendous power in that.
Kristina: Why should Indigenous-led conservation projects be important to other people in BC?
Gillian: While it’s existed since time immemorial, we’re finally at a time in our country where there’s more recognition for Indigenous-led conservation. As the original people of this country, we have valid knowledge sources to witness and respect to help create a more just and sustainable world. In BC, we can be the ones leading that convo—we have that opportunity! Dene Kʼéh Kusān is just one example of what’s possible, and people are starting to realize that the time is now.
At the end of the day, it’s our collective responsibility to ensure these areas are protected and conserved for future generations. It’s something that all of our future generations can benefit from, whether you call that area home or not.
Kristina: To end us off: what can British Columbians do to support Indigenous-led conservation projects like Dene Kʼéh Kusān?
Gillian: There are four things, I think, that British Columbians can do. Four is a sacred number to us, after all—it connects us to the medicine wheel teachings.
For folks who are interested in what we’re doing: visit our website, Dena Kayeh, and learn about our IPCA proposal, and what the Kaska people are trying to achieve. While you’re there, sign our letter of support as your first step.
I would really recommend that people begin to pay attention to Indigenous-led initiatives in their own backyard—or wherever they call home—and find ways to stand in solidarity with these nations.
I would advise that the BC public look into what IPCAs stand for, and the meaning behind Indigenous-led conservation efforts. IPCAs are rooted and grounded in the Indigenous nations who are putting those proposals forward, and they’re incredible proposals—more attention needs to be given to what we, as Indigenous people, are collectively trying to achieve.
If people believe that their personal health and well-being is connected to proposals like ours, Dene Kʼéh Kusān, then I would really ask people to stand with us. Stand with the Indigenous nations who are trying to put these proposals forward. Call on government and public interest groups so that they see the importance of this initiative, especially in northern BC. There’s a collective duty and responsibility to ensure the success of proposals like this.
Canada to prioritize nature and double protection of land and ocean by 2025
CPAWS applauds federal government’s commitment to nature conservation as part of Canada’s recovery
September 23, 2020, OTTAWA, Ontario – The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) welcomes the federal government’s commitment in today’s Speech from the Throne to protect nature as part of Canada’s recovery from COVID-19.
Protecting and restoring nature includes working towards the federal government’s commitments to protecting 25% of Canada’s land and ocean by 2025 and 30% by 2030 and implementing nature-based climate solutions. Bold action is urgently needed to tackle the interrelated biodiversity loss and climate change crises, and today’s commitments are an important step forward.
Biodiversity loss and climate change dominate the World Economic Forum’s top five risks to the global economy, and the COVID-19 pandemic and, by extension, the resulting economic crisis, are a direct outcome of our unsustainable relationship with the natural world.
With today’s acknowledgement of the importance of nature, CPAWS is encouraged that the necessary investment to curb biodiversity loss and make Canada more resilient to climate change will be included in recovery plans. Nature conservation, including protected areas, nature-based climate solutions, and natural infrastructure, offer job opportunities for people across the country and have the potential to support highly-impacted, remote, and vulnerable sectors.
CPAWS highlights the importance of implementing these conservation and climate commitments in ways that advance reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in Canada. Federal investment in Indigenous-led conservation and stewardship programs such as Indigenous Guardians will be key to our collective success in conserving nature in Canada.
With our 13 community-based offices from Yukon to Newfoundland and Labrador, and a national office located in Ottawa, CPAWS is looking forward to continuing to work with governments at all levels, Indigenous groups, and other partners, to deliver on these significant commitments to land and ocean protection, nature-based climate solutions, and natural infrastructure in ways that effectively conserve biodiversity and help tackle climate change.
“We are pleased to see the federal government’s continued commitment to using nature-based solutions to fight climate change by protecting a quarter of Canada’s ocean in five years,” said Ross Jameson, Ocean Conservation Manager at CPAWS British Columbia (CPAWS-BC). “Protected areas will conserve biodiversity, advance reconciliation, and create healthy coastal communities.”
“This renewed commitment from the federal government is critical in advancing conservation initiatives in BC, in places like Kaska ancestral territory in the northern interior,” says Jessie Corey, Terrestrial Conservation Manager at CPAWS British Columbia (CPAWS-BC). ”BC has the opportunity to lead the rest of the country in meeting its biodiversity conservation targets, and we’re hopeful to see increased collaboration between governments in the coming years to follow through on these commitments.”
“While the link between healthy nature, human health, economic health, and climate stability was recognized before the pandemic, COVID-19 has created the space to consider these important links and to re-think our future,” said Sandra Schwartz, CPAWS National Executive Director. “Governments, including the European Union and New Zealand, are choosing to invest in rebuilding societies and economies that are more healthy, equitable, and green as they plan and implement recovery strategies for COVID-19 – and we are optimistic Canada is on the path to do the same.”
For more information, please contact:
Skye Vallance Communications and Development Coordinator email@example.com| 604-685-7445 x 22
According to the World Economic Forum, half of the world’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is moderately or highly dependent on nature and the services it provides, and the global food-, land-, and ocean-use system provides up to 40% of the world’s jobs. As a nation that relies on its rich natural resources, protecting nature and the multitude of services it provides is critical to Canada’s economic recovery.
Many studies done across Canada have found that natural assets, if maintained, already have tremendous value, which will increase as the climate changes. As an example, urban forests in Toronto, Vancouver, and Halifax are valued at billions of dollars for ecosystem services such as control of stormwater runoff, air quality regulation, and carbon sequestration.
Protecting and restoring forest, grassland, and wetland (including eelgrass, saltmarsh, and riparian areas) to reduce and store greenhouse gas emissions would help to address the climate and biodiversity crises, create jobs, and expand a green economy in Canada. The same is true for using natural infrastructure solutions to increase our resilience to climate change.
The World Economic Forum estimates that transitioning industry to a more nature-positive model could result in up to $10 trillion USD in annual business value and could create 395 million jobs by 2030.
Terrestrial parks and associated visitor spending support 64,000 jobs, generate a return of 6:1 in GDP, and return 44% of government investment back in taxes. Canada’s parks and protected areas are becoming increasingly important for domestic tourism as COVID-19 restricts international travel.
Effective Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are a key component of a strong Blue Economy. Recent studies show that protecting 30% of our ocean in effective and well-managed MPAs can restore ocean health and produce an economic return on investments of 10:1.
The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) is Canada’s only nationwide charity dedicated solely to the protection of our public land, ocean, and freshwater, and ensuring our parks and protected areas are managed to protect nature. Since 1963, CPAWS has played a leading role in protecting over half a million square kilometres. Our vision is to protect at least half of Canada’s public land and water in a framework of reconciliation – for the benefit of wildlife and people.
The CPAWS British Columbia chapter (CPAWS-BC) works to protect wilderness in every corner of BC and deep into the ocean. We have been defending BC since 1978, and are dedicated to keeping BC’s natural environment thriving forever. Nature is BC’s best hope.