The June edition of the Thaidene Nëné newsletter is off to the printers!
This newsletter documents the many on the land programs organized by the Thaidene Nëné Department this spring and gives updates about Ni Hat'ni Dene, Thaidene Nëné Xá Dá Yáłtı, and Frontier Lodge.
If you have suggestions for the newsletter or for Thaidene Nëné communications and/or operations, please let us know. Our door is always open.
We will have paper copies for community members next week. In the meantime, check out the digital version here.
Ron Desjarlais was working at Snap Lake, a diamond mine 220km northeast of Yellowknife, when its closure was announced six years ago. After more than twenty years in the territory’s diamond mines, it seemed the perfect opportunity for Ron to do something different, something he had been thinking about for a while: start a tourism business in his home community of Łutsël K’é.
It was good timing for Ron’s new venture, East Arm Pop-Up Camp, not least because of a surge in interest in Indigenous-led tourism. In Canada, between 2014 and 2017, the Indigenous tourism sector grew by 23 per cent, well exceeding the broader industry’s growth of 14 per cent in the same period. Meanwhile, the Łutsël K’é Dene were in the final stages of signing establishment agreements for the creation of the Thaidene Nëné Indigenous Protected Area. Completed in August 2019, the protected area, which spans 26,376 square kilometres at the transition between the boreal forest and tundra, includes a national park reserve, territorial protected area, and wildlife conservation area.
East Arm Pop-Up Camp, as the name suggests, is mobile, allowing Ron and his guests to visit different parts of Tu Nedhé (Great Slave Lake), depending on the season. A pop-up camp also allows Ron to offer visitors to Thaidene Nëné something different than conventional lodges, a chance to live more like Dene on the land. “The East Arm Pop-Up Camp has wall tents for guests to sleep in, or dome tents if they prefer, a teepee with a fire in case it is windy or raining, and a place down by the shore for fixing fish,” explains Ron.
While his business may be new, Ron is no stranger to the tourism industry. One of his first jobs as a young man in the 1970s was working as a fishing guide at Frontier Fishing Lodge and Arctic Star Lodge. While he learned a lot by watching the other guides work, many of whom were also Łutsël K’é Dene, it was Ron’s late father that showed him the ropes: “He taught me how to troll using a boat and how to handle the motor and the gases. I learned that you needed to be polite and kind, and that you need to tell visitors some of stories about the area that you know.” While much has changed in tourism in the years since Ron worked at Frontier and Arctic Star, these lessons about service and authentic experiences still hold.
There’s a reason that lodges near Łutsël K’é specialize in fishing experiences. The cold, clear, and deep waters of the East Arm of Tu Nedhé are home to monster trout that attract sportfishers from around the world. Guests of Ron and the East Arm Pop-Up Camp can take advantage of area’s fabulous fishing opportunities, but they will also see that Thaidene Nëné has lots more to offer, including stimulating hikes, rejuvenating paddles, awe-inspiring birdwatching and wildlife viewing, delicious shore lunches, and spectacular aurora viewing.
Bettina Koschade and her 12-year-old daughter, Hali, from Wakefield, QC, had the pleasure of staying with Ron and his wife, Shirley, in Łutsël K’é—the couple now also have a bed and breakfast. Travelling and camping on the big lake with Ron “was an experience of a lifetime” for Bettina and Hali: "Ron took such good care of us. He has a steady methodical way of preparing every boat trip, whether a spontaneous fishing outing, or packing up for a long trip to a new location. Ron was always attentive to our needs and comfort without spoiling us or taking away from the experience of catching our first trout and showing us how to prepare a shore lunch and then eat the fish right there on a spread of spruce boughs without any dishes or cutlery. Travelling with Ron was always fun, always safe, and we could feed off the joy he showed in teaching us about this beautiful place he calls home.”
Tour operators on the East Arm lost their season in 2020 because of the pandemic. While the territory remains mostly closed to visitors from elsewhere in Canada and international guests, this summer Ron and others are open for staycation visitors. As Ron notes, this is the perfect opportunity for NWT residents to visit Łutsël K’é and Thaidene Nëné: “The air is clean. The water is clear. There are high hills and cliffs and lots of wildlife. There’s also lots of history.” Oh, and don’t forget, the great fishing.
If you’re interested in visiting the East Arm Pop-Up Camp or scheduling a day trip with Ron Desjarlais, contact 867.765.8225 or firstname.lastname@example.org. More information about the East Arm Pop-Up Camp can be found on Ron’s website: www.eastarmpopupcamp.com.
The Ni Hat’ni Dene Guardians will be hosting a spring camp from May 13-22, 2021, in partnership with the Łutsël K’é Dene School.
The camp will be located halfway to Háketh Tué (Duhamel Lake) on the road near Tsa Kuɂúze (Lıttle Beaver Pond).
Rides, meals, and refreshments will be provided daily for participants.
Rides will be provided from Łutsël K’é to the camp daily at 1:00 pm, returning to the community at 4:00 pm. Rides will leave from the Thaidene Nëné office, or call Denecho at (867) 445-9947 to arrange a ride.
If you have your own transportation, Thaidene Nëné will provide a gasoline subsidy to attend the camp. Come to the Thaidene Nëné office to get a gas slip.
Thursday, May 13 – Muskrat Skinning Demonstration
Friday, May 14 – Beaver Trap Setting Demonstration
Saturday, May 15 – Muskrat Trapping and Muskox Tracking/Hunting
Sunday, May 16 – Elder Storytelling and Hand Games Mini-Tournament
Monday, May 17 – Duck/Geese Skinning Demonstration
Tuesday, May 18 – Moose/Caribou Hide Tanning Demonstration
Wednesday, May 19 – Elder Storytelling
Thursday, May 20 – Check Muskrat and Snare Traps
Friday, May 21 – Fix Fish and BBQ Fish
Saturday, May 22 – Elder Storytelling
If you have any questions about the camp, email email@example.com or call (867) 444-7710.
“The land is very fertile. It is very good land, very beautiful land…The land is our home. We have to protect what we have lived on all our life,” Łutsël K’é Elder Albert Boucher told the members of Thaidene Nëné Xá Dá Yáłtı—the operational management board for the Thaidene Nëné Indigenous Protected Area—during a recent meeting in his home community.
Thaidene Nëné Xá Dá Yáłtı means the people that speak for Thaidene Nëné in Dënesųłıné yatı. Though appointed by the Łutsël K’é Dene First Nation, the Government of Canada, and the Government of the Northwest Territories (GNWT)—the three parties to the establishment agreements—the seven board members speak only for the land, the water, the plants, the animals, and the people that call Thaidene Nëné home, not for the parties that appointed them.
The board’s first meeting in February 2021 was largely an orientation. Presentations about the history of the Indigenous protected area and the establishment agreements that created Thaidene Nëné helped the new board members understand the origins of Xá Dá Yáłtı, as well as its mandate and authorities.
The board members’ orientation continued at the April meeting with implementation updates from each of the parties. Senior staff from Łutsël K’é, Parks Canada, and the GNWT brought the board members up to date on activities related to policy development, staffing, infrastructure, and programming. The focus of this meeting, though, was the board’s governance policies. These policies are critical to the board’s work, which includes developing a management plan for Thaidene Nëné and making decisions about cultural promotion, ecological protection, access and use permits, and research and monitoring.
The establishment agreements for Thaidene Nëné make clear that Xá Dá Yáłtı is to develop “its own operating procedures and rules for the performance of its functions.” Work on these procedures began in February with discussions of guiding principles, member roles and responsibilities, and how meetings will be conducted. A draft governance document was reviewed and refined at the April meeting.
The board members also discussed consensus decision making in more detail. Thaidene Nëné Xá Dá Yáłtı was designed with Indigenous governance in mind. The first point in the board process section of the establishment agreements states: “Thaidene Nëné Xá Dá Yáłtı will make all decisions by consensus.” JC Catholique, one of Łutsël K’é’s appointees to the operational management board, explains how consensus decision making works in Dene communities, “When any kind of situation happens, we come together. We talk about it and come to an agreement. Everyone has a say and we all agree to the final outcome.”
Elder Albert Boucher attended the meetings, which are open to the public, listening through translation as the parties provided updates and the board members discussed governance. On both days, he asked to speak to the board. Albert spoke about the importance of the land to Łutsël K’é Dene and the history of the protected area. He also explained the spirit and intent of the elders’ original mandate to protect Thaidene Nëné.
On Friday, he told the board, “The elders have given us the words and we have to keep those words. We are the ones that are carrying on our elders words.” Drawing on those words, he encouraged the board members to work together, to make decision by consensus, and to engage the community, including elders and youth, as they chart a path forward for Thaidene Nëné.
Albert’s presence at and participation in the meetings are further evidence of the ways in which Thaidene Nëné Xá Dá Yáłtı is re-imagining protected and conserved areas. As Steve Ellis, senior advisor to the Łutsël K’é Dene First nation, observed after Albert spoke on Thursday: “You can’t make any decisions without elders. That’s Indigenous governance.”
This is part of a series of profiles about the staff, leaders, and community members who are hard at work implementing Łutsël K’é Dene First Nation's vision for the Thaidene Nëné Indigenous Protected Area. You can read the other profiles here.
Paul Catholique is the newest Ni Hat’ni Dene guardian. Paul brings a wealth of experience living and working on the land to the crew. For a decade, he spent his summer months working as a guide at Frontier Fishing Lodge, showing guests the best fishing spots on Tu Nedhé (Great Slave Lake) and sharing the history and the culture of the area with them. He also spent ten years working for forestry, first as a fire crew member and later as a crew boss and supervisor.
In between contracts, Paul would hunt and trap, using the skills he learned from his father, John Catholique (his mother is Bertha Collins [Tłı̨chǫ]). “From a young age, we went trapping,” he says, often working out of a cabin on Ts’ǫ Ɂáı Tué (Noman Lake). His uncle, Antoine Michel, also played a critical role in teaching Paul how to live off the land, especially beyond the treeline. “He used to take us out to the barrenlands every year,” Paul recalls. “As soon as it was frozen, we would go to the barrenlands by skidoo. We went often, sometimes three to fifteen times a year.” Paul credits his uncle Antoine with teaching him to navigate in the springtime, when it’s more dangerous to travel on the land—“You have been really knowledgeable at that time of year,” he says—and also with showing him the old routes and roads.
Equally important to his education as a harvester and land user was knowledge shared by Łutsël K’é Dene elders: “When I was in town, I would listen to the elders talk and tell stories.” His greatest teacher, though, was the land itself. In Paul’s words, “I learned from going all over on the land, trapping, travelling, and just living on the land.”
When asked about his favourite places in Thaidene Nëné, almost all of Paul’s picks are beyond the treeline: Ɂedacho Tué (Artillery Lake), Dené Bésda Tué Chogh (Fletcher Lake), Ɂejëre K’áanı́ Tué (Campbell Lake), and K’ásba Dezé (Ptarmigan River). Contrary to the image suggested by the name barrenlands, Paul see the tundra as a place of abundance, “Everything I need is there.” Hazú (tundra) is also special because of the connection to his ancestors. Paul’s great-grandfather Gahdële is buried on Ɂedacho Tué.
Paul wanted to be a Ni Hat’ni Dene guardian because the job description is basically his life. “This position was made for me,” he says. More than this, Paul, like many in the community, wants to protect the land and Ni Hat’ni Dene play a critical role in that. “We need to protect the land, the water, the animals, the trees,” Paul explains. “We need to protect the old campsites, the old burial sites.”
Working alongside the other guardians, Paul will be responsible for mentoring the summer students. By creating hands-on learning opportunities, he notes, Ni Hat’ni Dene “can help make it safer to send younger people out on their land.” Being a skilled and conscientious land user is important to Paul; so is modelling Łutsël K’é Dene values. As just one example, he notes that “Ni Hat’ni are teaching young people how to put nets in the water, so they can share the fish with the community, with the elders.”
Paul also sees the important role that Ni Hat’ni Dene play in welcoming visitors to Thaidene Nëné, while also teaching them how to live and travel safely on the land. “The things we teach the young people are good for visitors too,” he says. “We don’t want them to be left out. Everybody is welcome.”
We are the Lutsel K’e Dene First Nation. Our vision for Thaidene Nëné is:
Nuwe néné, nuwe ch'anıé yunedhé xa (Our land, our culture for the future).
We’re working with our partners to permanently protect Thaidene Nëné—part of our
huge and bountiful homeland around and beyond the East Arm of Tu Nedhé.