You have taken many different routes to get here today. Some traveled from the North, some from the South, and others from points East or West. And we all gather here to discuss a long stretch of land that binds us all together.
The corridor from Yellowstone to Yukon is one of many old trails that snake their way across this continent. You call it “Y to Y” but we know it as “Dena Tunna” or “The People’s Trail”. Our connection to this corridor is ancient — it facilitated the migration of aboriginal people across North America.
The Kaska Dena, who I represent, have lived on the land for tens of thousands of years. Our traditional territory covers 93,000 square miles of beautiful, rugged, resource rich country in B.C. the Yukon and adjacent areas of the Northwest Territories even today it is land populated almost solely by the Kaska people.
We well understand conservation biology and have practiced it for thousands of years. Conservation was critical to our survival, and such a lesson is seldom lost.
We appreciate all that we have and view ourselves as stewards of the land. We believe it is our duty to care for the land and to ensure that it will sustain our people in the future as well as it has in the past.
In more recent times, the most significant contributions to conservation have been initiated by aboriginal people. Through the land claims process almost every agreement has one or more special management areas and some have been carved out on a huge scale.
In the midst of our traditional territory in B.C. is the Muskwa Kechika Special Management Area at 6.3 million hectares, it is the largest publicly administered special management area in North America. This “Serengeti of the North” is home to the biggest representation of large animals in North America. It also has the potential to yield hundreds of millions of dollars annually in oil and gas revenues.
We are well aware of the challenges ahead. Oil and gas companies stand before us, eager to develop our resources. Governments look to their dwindling coffers and eye the potential revenues that rest in the ground that we have walked upon for generation after generation.
Many elders yearn to go back to the traditional ways of living off the land while our youth face an uncertain future in remote communities bound by drug abuse, alcoholism, and the pressures of popular culture.
Against this backdrop we are working to protect our land and provide the economic benefits our communities so desperately need.
We have had success with our limited resources. Much of our work is focused on our youth-they represent our future and our ability to survive as a distinct people rests with them.
In 1999 we initiated a youth camp, which brings youth deep into the heart of our territory together with elders, biologists and world class guides. We teach them about our traditional knowledge, modern technology and land use issues with the hope that their generation will be able to work together to marry our traditional ways with science and technology and care for the land for generations to come. In 2000 we brought together young leaders from seven countries and 22 First Nations young leaders who left our camp with a new understanding of our world and our people.
While the future rests with our youth, our elders are also key. Tthey hold centuries of wisdom. In one brief interview, a Kaska elder recently imparted detailed knowledge of the caribou and their behavior and migration patterns. Biologists tell me they have conducted costly research over a 20-year period, only to learn that our elders always knew the very information these biologists sought.
Science did tell us something our elders could not however they have identified that there is evidence of caribou in our territory that dates back 1.6 million years.
We are prepared to work with environmental organizations as partners on joint initiatives where we share common goals. We need your expertise and your ability, not only to help us protect this rich, diverse country, but also to help us claim some share of economic benefits in the process.
For us to continue to be successful in our efforts we need your help to build capacity, we need funding and we need training. Towards this end, we recently carved out a working protocol with the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society and we have invited them to work with us in partnership, along with other environmental organizations, so that we may all speak with a single strong voice.
Now we need to begin to broaden discussions to include other land users such as ranchers, farmers, and outfitters. If we are to be effective, they too have an important role to play as our dialogue progresses.
We will succeed in the decades to come by preparing our youth to pick up the challenges that will inevitably fall at their feet. We will succeed through forging stronger relationships with you and the organizations you represent. We will succeed by facilitating discussions among competing interests. We will succeed, but only by working together neither you nor I can succeed alone.
So while we all took different paths to get here, we find ourselves standing together and preparing to choose the best route for our future journeys.
Now, to tell you a bit more about where the Kaska Dena Council is going, I’m going to hand the podium to forester David Crampton who is actively involved with our planning efforts.