Steven Kallick, Pew’s director of international lands conservation, says Déline is ripe to formalize its role in Indigenous stewardship through a guardianship program that uses private and public money to hire locals as land managers.
Australia’s $100-million annual investment into its “smashingly successful” rangers program pays more than 700 Indigenous people, many of them youth, to manage their conservation lands, Kallick says. “It’s funny how Canadian governments, when they do invest in a park or a wildlife area, bring in non-Indigenous people from Toronto or Vancouver to work in these places. If you hire locals, you don’t have to teach them how to run a boat, how to stay alive if they run out of gas and the engine conks out. You can’t teach a lifetime’s worth of knowledge that kids have grow- ing up in a community.”
That’s music to the ears of Elder Leon Modeste, 83, who believes Déline must eschew large-scale development in favour of conservation jobs for Great Bear Lake to survive. But this is a resource-rich area; besides uranium, there’s coal, diamonds, iron, silver, copper and possibly oil and gas and gold deposits. The pursuit of any of these could spark the hot-button jobs-versus-the-environment debate. Modeste says climate change alone will bear tremendous pressures on Tudzé, the lake’s water heart. “It’s a gift to us to take care of it and it’s not even ours,” he says. “It’s for all people. Eventually a lot of people will come and we’ll offer our food, we’ll offer whatever we have, and we’re going to talk about how to respect it, how to honour it, how to keep it so it can sustain us for as long as it’s capable.”
This global outlook, with parallels to chemist James Lovelock and micro- biologist Lynn Margulis’s famed Gaia hypothesis, has served Déline well as a guiding light toward a sustainable future, even though people here say the climate change apocalypse Ayah foresaw is inescapable. If they’re right, there’s at least some comfort knowing these expert conservationists have taken on the self- designated role of “water keepers ’til eternity” with such fervency, determination and heart.