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The proposed Edehzhie protected area boundary in 2016. (Government of the Northwest Territories) Federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna will be in the Northwest Territories on Thursday to sign an agreement with the Dehcho First Nations to officially protect the Edehzhie area.

Edehzhie, a plateau that rises out of the Mackenzie Valley to the west of Great Slave Lake, covers 25,000 square kilometres of land.

The area has been a spiritual gathering and hunting place in the Dehcho since time immemorial.

Dene elder Jonas Antoine has referred to it as the "breadbasket" of the Dehcho people.

Now, after 16 years of negotiations, a portion of Edehzhie will be federally protected as a national wildlife area. Ducks are harvested in Edehzhie. Elders have referred to the area as the "breadbasket" of the Dehcho people. (Kali Spitzer Photography) In 2002, the Dehcho and Tlicho asked the federal government to prohibit any new development in the Edehzhie area. Ottawa agreed, but only until 2010.

In 2010, against the wishes of the Dehcho people, Ottawa opened up the mineral-rich subsurface of the Edehzhie to development.

Indigenous leaders in the territory were outraged.

In 2011, then Dehcho grand chief Sam Gargan told the CBC that any agreement that doesn’t include the protection of what’s below ground is "a mockery." A moose wades through a shallow wetland in the Edehzhie area. (Kali Spitzer Photography) The Dehcho took Ottawa to court over the decision and won .

In the 2012 ruling, a judge said the federal government’s decision to terminate subsurface protection without consulting the Dehcho was "clearly questionable." A new deal

In response, the federal government put forth a new plan.

It saw the original 25,000-square-kilometre protected area cut in half, but the remaining 14,000 square kilometres would be given full surface and subsurface protection.

Any areas containing large mineral deposits were taken out of the deal. An aerial view of a portion of the Edehzhie area. (Kali Spitzer Photography) Now, after years of back and forth, the Dehcho First Nations and Ottawa have come to an agreement.

The 14,000-square-kilometre area will be co-managed by three groups: an appointed Edehzhie management board, the Dehcho Guardians and the Canadian Wildlife Service.

A spokesperson for Environment and Climate Change Canada said this is the first Indigenous protected national wildlife area in the country.

McKenna and Dehcho Grand Chief Gladys Norwegian will sign the official agreement later on Thursday in Fort Providence, N.W.T.

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