This is the ninth in 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.
Raised in Winnipeg, MB, Steve Ellis first came to Łutsël K’é as a Masters student in 1999. He was supposed to only be in the community for a few months, conducting research about environmental assessment, but as he tells it, “I made myself somewhat useful, so I ended up sticking around.” Steve, who is Chinese/Scottish, was hired on to the Wildlife, Lands, and Environment Department, eventually becoming the manager. Joined in Łutsël K’é by his partner, Tracey, in 2000, the couple and the three children that followed called the community home until 2013, when they moved to Yellowknife (the family keeps a home in Łutsël K’é, so they can go back whenever they want).
Steve describes his time in Łutsël K’é as a second childhood. Though he had done lots of canoeing and hiking before moving to the community, he had not lived off the land in the way Łutsël K’é Dene do. Thankfully, the Boucher and Catholique families took young Steve under their wings and “showed him the ropes.” “I am who I am today,” he explains, “because of those two childhoods: The childhood I had with my actual parents and the second childhood I had with the community.”
Living in Łutsël K’é, Steve came to know and love many places in Thaidene Nëné. Two places deserve special mention. A massive lake that straddles the tree line, Ɂedacho Kúe (Artillery Lake) is rich with important cultural and historic sites. “It is a spectacular area with deep history. You can feel the presence of generations of people,” Steve notes. Steve also has fond memories of travelling on Tędhul Dezé (Snowdrift River) with Tracey and their eldest son Hawke when he was still in diapers. A meandering river with lovely sandbars, the Snowdrift, in Steve’s estimation, is “the perfect family float.”
Steve has been involved with Thaidene Nëné since the early 2000s in variety of different capacities. In the wake of the diamond staking rush, the community was exploring conservation as a solution to its concerns about mining encroachment. As the manager of Wildlife, Lands, and Environment, it was Steve’s responsibility to coordinate and facilitate those initial conversations with the elders and the community. As things became more formalized, Steve became “the” Thaidene Nëné person for LKDFN. In 2010, he was named to the negotiating team, working alongside Steven Nitah and Larry Innes to ensure the establishment agreements reflected and respected Łutsël K’é’s vision for and responsibilities within Thaidene Nëné. Following the signing ceremony in 2019, Steve transitioned to the role of advisor to the First Nation on implementation.
Continuity is important between negotiations and implementation. The intimate knowledge that negotiators have of the agreements is invaluable in providing guidance to the parties as they seek to fulfill the letter and the spirit of the agreements. Łutsël K’é is unique among the three parties in that it is the only one to have a negotiator on its implementation team.
So what does Steve’s position look like day-to-day? First and foremost, he is responsible for protecting the agreements and ensuring they are being followed. In his words, “I play an important role in educating the parties. Unfortunately, sometimes that also means reminding the parties what they agreed to.” Steve has a number of other roles as well. He does external relations work with the other parties. He is supporting the development of the governance approach. He also advises the Thaidene Nëné manager on big picture things like strategic planning, budgeting, and annual workplans. Lastly, he is responsible for overseeing funding and managing relationships with funders.
Steve has been involved with the process long enough that he can shed some light on the why and how of LKDFN’s success in realizing their goal to protect Thaidene Nëné. Statistically, Steve notes, Łutsël K’é is like most other northern communities: it struggles with things like poverty, substance abuse, overcrowding. For many communities, there is no clear pathway out of this situation. Łutsël K’é is fortunate to be located in a place that is beautiful and accessible, but more importantly a place that Parks Canada has had an interest in for a half-century. Furthermore, while there may be divisions within the community, by and large, Łutsël K’é Dene share a commitment to protecting their land, maintaining their authority over their land, and ensuring the continuation of culture and lifestyle as land-based people. According to Steve, “This consistency of vision has allowed Łutsël K’é to achieve its goals as a community.”
If you’re familiar at all with the strategic plan that the Łutsël K’é Dene First Nation developed this past year for Thaidene Nëné, you will know that the first goal is: Łutsël K’é leading. And the community is doing just that. They are the only one of the three parties with staff on the ground, staff who, in spite of the newness of the Indigenous Protected Area and the pandemic, have been busy establishing systems and delivering programming. Steve notes that the impact of this leadership is palpable in the community: “You can see it in the ownership the community has of the Thaidene Nëné office. You can see it in relationship to Frontier Lodge. You can see it in the activity in the community in relation to Thaidene Nëné.” The community’s leadership has import beyond the boundaries of Thaidene Nëné. To borrow from Steve, “Through Thaidene Nëné, Łutsël K’é is re-setting the power dynamics with crown governments.”
When Steve looks to the future, he sees Łutsël K’é continuing to lead the management and operations of Thaidene Nëné in partnership with Parks Canada and the GNWT. He sees local people involved and engaged in a meaningful way and securing liveliehoods through Thaidene Nëné. He sees young people who can imagine a future for themselves in the community because of the opportunities afforded by Thaidene Nëné. He sees Łutsël K’é as a place that people want to move back to as opposed to a place they want or have to move away from.
As part of the ongoing Lodge renovation and renewal project, we’re redesigning the Frontier experience to better reflect Thaidene Nëné, and Dënesųłıné culture. Part of that work is the creation and installation of bilingual Dënesųłıné / English signage, archival photography displays, and local artifacts / artwork around the Lodge.
Frontier Lodge is seeking a highly motivated individual to help lead and coordinate that work locally, in Lutsel K’e. As the Local Project Coordinator, you will work closely with the Board of Directors, Management, Elders, and the Thaidene Nëné Department to manage the successful completion of this project.
Duties will include:
- Helping to identify Elders to participate and facilitate honorarium
- Planning for local meetings – setup, booking space, coordinating with participants etc.
- Helping to identify suitable archival photographs
- Working closely with TDN Department on correct translation for signage
- Sourcing local products for cabins / lounge areas, i.e. hides, arts/ crafts as directed
- Coordinating with Management and Contractors on design, production and installation of all project materials.
This is a part time, contract position – February to June, 2021
Closing Date: January 15th, 2021 at 12:00 pm
To apply, please email your resume and references to Corey Myers, General Manager of Frontier Lodge at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This is the eighth in 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.
Born in Yellowknife, NT, Iris was brought to Łutsël K’é, then called Snowdrift, when she was only a week old by her custom adopted mother, Florence Catholique. Her biological parents are Catherine Doctor and Stewart McLean. Iris has four siblings: Stephanie Catholique Poole, Melissa Doctor, Forrest Doctor, and the late Erica Doctor.
When she wasn’t in school, young Iris spent weeks and months living and learning on the land with her mother, Florence, her grandparents, Jonas and Madeline Catholique, and her extended family. As a result, Iris carries both traditional land-based skills and Western academic skills. Iris continues to be an active land user and harvester. She and her partner, Thomas Lafferty, can often be found on the land, sharing traditional knowledge and skills with their four children, Devin, Tanner, Kiana, and Hayden. Iris also shares the knowledge the elders passed on to her with youth in Łutsël K’é.
There are too many special places within Thaidene Nëné for Iris to choose just one. However, two places of significance for her are Ɂedacho Kúe (Artillery Lake) and Kaché (Fort Reliance). Both places remind Iris of her sons’ first caribou harvest when they were ten years old. Teaching her children how to travel, harvest, and honour the Dënesųłıné way of life is very important to Iris: “I feel the only way to keep our traditions alive is to actually get out on the land and show our children our way of life. Those teachings will live on in their memories for them to pass on to their children.”
Iris has worked for the Łutsël K’é Dene First Nation for 20 years in various roles. Though only formally appointed to the Thaidene Nëné staff team in 2020, Iris had been actively involved in protecting Thaidene Nëné as a community member since the early 2000s: “It’s very important for me to be involved with anything that has to do with our territory; I attended all of the public meetings, I did interviews with the negotiators, I talked to elders and the community as a whole.” The dream of Thaidene Nëné, Iris notes, “has always been on the mind of our people. If you go back to the signing of Treaty 8 in 1900, you will hear the words: as long as the sun shines, grass grows, and the rivers flows we shall protect our traditional homeland.” The Thaidene Nëné team, with Iris at the helm, is helping to realize those promises and to provide economic opportunities for the community in a sustainable manner.
As the manager of Thaidene Nëné, Iris oversees the day-to-day implementation of the Thaidene Nëné agreements of which there are two, one with the Government of Canada and one with the Government of the Northwest Territories. Designated by the Łutsël K’é Dene First Nation in 2019, the Thaidene Nëné Indigenous Protected Area includes a national park reserve, a territorial protected area, and soon a wildlife conservation area. Though she is an employee of LKDFN, Iris feels a much broader sense of accountability: “I have a big responsibility not only to the land within Thaidene Nëné but to the people who live within the borders of the Indigenous protected area and the ancestors and elders who have passed on.”
There is never a dull moment in the Thaidene Nëné offices. While COVID-19 has slowed things down elsewhere, in Łutsël K’é, the Thaidene Nëné team is, in Iris words, “moving forward full throttle carrying out its work plan and implementing initiatives for the Indigenous protected area and community.” Iris currently supervises eight full time employees and five contractors. At present, she is focused on building the capacity of the existing Thaidene Nëné staff, delivering programming locally, and supporting guardian activities, though plans are afoot to expand the team, but also to develop a visitor’s centre, parks office, and staff housing for Thaidene Nëné.
When it’s safe to do so, Iris and the community of Łutsël K’é look forward to welcoming visitors from around the world: “Thaidene Nëné has so much Dënesųłıné history, so many stories and beautiful places. I would invite everyone to come and visit our piece of the world when it is safe to travel. People who come to visit often leave with great memories and long-lasting friendships.”
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.