Thaidene Nene: what’s in a name?

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Barnston River by Antje Rilk

Barnston River by Antje Rilk

Thaidene Nene translates from Chipewyan as ‘the Land of the Ancestors’. It’s the name that the Lutsel K’e Dene First Nation has chosen for the core of their huge traditional homeland – a place identified a decade ago by the community elders as a proposed protected area. It also includes lands and waters proposed by Parks Canada in 1970 to become “East Arm National Park”. The story of how the name has changed is also the story of how the Lutsel K’e Dene have determinedly charted their own course for more than 40 years.

In the community of Lutsel K’e on the East Arm of Great Slave Lake, many people speak Chipewyan on a daily basis, and many of the stories about the land, waters, animals, and how places got their names, are told in Chipewyan.

Ts’akui Theda (‘the Lady of the Falls’) is an important spiritual site where Lutsel K’e Dene travel each year for healing and prayer. There is a story about how the woman came to be part of this waterfall on the Lockhart River, and it gives the Lutsel K’e Dene their direction to protect Thaidene Nene. In the words of Gloria Enzoe, Thaidene Nene Program Manager:

She has told the people that she will always be there to heal, to protect, to guide: as long as we do not disturb her land until the end of time. This is the responsibility passed on to us by our elders. They know our identity and strength come from our relationship with Thaidene Nene. We have a responsibility to carry this tradition into the future: to protect our lands, waters, and wildlife, so that we can continue to practice our culture, live from this land, and diversify and develop our local economy. We are the land. We are Thaidene Nene.

LKDFN has a clear vision for their future, and it is based on establishing Thaidene Nene. It is a vision of healthy land, waters, wildlife and culture: of protecting their traditional territory, where the caribou they have relied on for millennia still roam. Permanent protection of Thaidene Nene will provide the foundation for a sustainable local economy and livelihoods, and the community’s self-determination – a vision that CPAWS is proud to be supporting.

Old cabins at Kache by Antje Rilk

Old cabins at Kache by Antje Rilk

Many places in the area bear official English names after the European explorers and adventurers who traveled the area and drew maps. For the Lutsel K’e Dene, Chipewyan names for lakes, rivers, hills, fishing areas and camp sites have been used for countless generations, and continue to be used, showing just how closely linked the Lutsel K’e Dene are to the land, to Thaidene Nene. These close ties make it pointless to try and separate ecological from cultural reasons for conservation. Traditional areas like Thaidene Nene cover the Northwest Territories, and are sometimes called ‘cultural landscapes’: systems of interaction between human activity and natural habitat, which is demonstrated by the many place names and stories tied to the land and waters. Recognizing and returning to traditional place names is an important acknowledgement of Dene rights on their traditional territories.

At the 2005 Annual General Meeting in Lutsel K’e, community members were asked to submit a name for the protected area, and the meaning behind it. Dennis Drygeese entered ‘Thaidene Nene’, which was voted the favourite, and is now the official name for the protected area.

Establishing Thaidene Nene will protect the land, waters and wildlife of this spectacular part of the country, and it will and to keep the stories of the Lutsel K’e Dene alive and their culture strong for generations to come.

Stay tuned for live Thaidene Nene events in the NWT and in southern Canada this spring!

-Erica Janes, CPAWS-NWT Conservation Outreach Coordinator

  1. calem
    calem05-14-2013

    wow never thought it had so much history

  2. Barbara Mackenzie
    Barbara Mackenzie08-09-2016

    I am writing from a traditional fishing place at Tetacho Great Slave Lake. Dennis Drygeese made a beautiful case for the name, Thaidene Nene.

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