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First Nations groups vow to fight for NWT land rights

EDMONTON – First Nations communities in the Northwest Territories declared they would take legal action against a federal decision to open ecologically sensitive lands to mineral exploration.

The Dehcho First Nations are upset that the federal government ended protection of the Edéhzhíe (Horn Plateau) lands, an area that had been protected from development since 2002 under an interim agreement between the federal government, the Dehcho First Nations and other partners. The Dehcho consider the agreement a critical step in the negotiations toward resolving a land claim.

Edéhzhíe lies west of Great Slave Lake. It is an undulating plateau rising 400 metres over the surrounding boreal plains and lowlands, says the Canadian Boreal Initiative, a boreal forest conservation group that has joined the First Nations groups in this fight. The group says it is one of the natural jewels in the Mackenzie Valley of the Northwest Territories, an area of cultural and ecological significance for the Dehcho and Tłicho peoples. Wildlife such as caribou and moose are abundant, it has rich wetlands and is a continental bird flyway.

“Canada’s decision is illegal and threatens this important habitat for woodland caribou, leaving the whole area vulnerable to exploration and mining,” said Dehcho Grand Chief Samuel Gargan in a statement. “We won’t allow any staking to occur. Anyone who tries to stake in Edéhzhíe may have his stakes removed and will be seeing us in court. Our constitutional land rights have been abused long enough by the way Canada applies the Canada Mining Regulations.”

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