This is the seventh 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.
The Ni Hat’ni Dene are not the only guardians that work out of the Thaidene Nëné office. Laura Jane Michel, who is the community’s traditional knowledge archivist, is also a guardian, in this case of stories, place names, and knowledge. Amongst other things, Laura Jane is responsible for managing the community’s TrailMark database, which is a repository for a wide range of documents containing information about the people and land of Thaidene Nëné, including transcripts, recordings, theses, photographs, and GPS data.
Laura Jane Michel was raised in Łutsël K’é by her late parents, Mary Jane and Antoine Michel: “They taught me and my siblings everything we needed to know about living on the land, like camping, hunting, and how to survive.” (Laura Jane’s brother, Jason, is a Ni Hat’ni Dene guardian). In addition to sharing their language and culture with their children, Antoine and Mary Jane also passed on their love for land. “I crave being out on the land all the time. If I don’t go out, I feel so lost. I feel so bored.” Now, Laura Jane is sharing her passion for the Land of the Ancestors with her daughter, Serena.
Laura Jane had a hard time identifying her favourite spots in Thaidene Nëné because there are so many. She eventually landed on two places, both of which have connections to her father. The first is Kache (Fort Reliance): “I like going to the gathering in August. I also like doing the hike to Perry Falls and asking the Lady of the Falls for help and guidance. My late dad always told me: if you feel sick or anything, that’s where you go. You have to believe in her for her to help you.” The second place is Ptarmigan River at the north end of Ɂedacho Tué (Artillery Lake): “I love fishing there in the fall time. My late dad had a lodge at Ptarmigan River, so that’s where I learned about fishing and caribou.”
Like others in the community, Laura Jane is looking forward to welcoming those from away to the Land of the Ancestors. She just asks that visitors have respect for the land and the people: “Thaidene Nëné is our traditional territory, it’s a sacred place.” A good visitor, she explains, will respect local beliefs and protocols, like asking permission before visiting certain places or paying the land and the water when travelling through the park.
Thaidene Nëné exists because of the respect that Łutsël K’é Dene have for the land and all the beings that inhabit it. Maintaining these relationships and the health and wellbeing of the land, the water, and the animals is vital for ensuring that future generations are able to live as the ancestors did.
This is the sixth 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.
Ray Griffith arrived to Łutsël K’é in 1972 to teach adult education. Originally a farm boy from Saskatchewan, he quickly fell in love with the land and the people. From the mid-1970s to the late 1980s, Ray lived on the land, trapping, hunting, and fishing. He travelled with and was mentored by Pierre and Judith Catholique and Noel and Madeline Drybones. Almost 50 years later, Ray is still here, though he has lived in town since marrying and starting a family.
Today, Ray is the tourism development manager. Funded through Thaidene Nëné and guided by the community’s tourism strategy, this position supports the establishment of a tourism economy in Łutsël K’é.
As the tourism development manager, Ray played a role in the community’s acquisition of Frontier Lodge in December 2019: “Purchasing the lodge was about more than buying a tourism business; Frontier Lodge is meant to be the centrepiece of a tourism economy in the community. In addition to attracting visitors to Łutsël K’é and Thaidene Nëné, Frontier Lodge will provide marketing support and other expertise on developing tourism services to local people interested in hosting visitors.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has been challenging for tourism both locally and globally. Unable to host out-of-territory visitors in 2020, the decision was made to use the summer to make some much-needed upgrades to the lodge. Likewise, during the off-season, Ray has been coordinating participation in a variety of tourism-related courses for community members wanting to be part of the burgeoning tourism economy. He is also supporting local tourism operators to develop packages for visitors in advance of the 2021 season.
Having lived out on the land for 15 years, Ray is familiar with the area the Łutsël K’é Dene First Nation designated an Indigenous protected area in 2019. “There are so many special places in Thaidene Nëné. One very special place for me is where Artillery Lake flows into the Lockhart River, a place known as Detthı in Dënesųłı̨né.” The strong flow of the water at Detthı creates open water, attracting ducks and geese in springtime and making it a good fishing spot.
Ray sees Thaidene Nëné as a way to protect places like Detthı, but also to ensure the continuation of the Łutsël K’é Dene way of life. As importantly, he hopes that by inspiring a tourism economy, the Indigenous protected area will provide a healthy future for the community and a path to self-sufficiency.
This is the fifth 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.
Prairie Desjarlais grew up in Łutsël K’é, raised in a traditional way by her grandparents, Madelaine and Jonas Catholique, her parents, JC Catholique and Cheeko Desjarlais, and her stepmother, Hanna Catholique. Prairie also grew up surrounded by the language. Her grandparents taught her to speak Dënesųłıné and she remembers only speaking her language with her cousin, Henry Catholique. Prairie has worked hard to bring up her own children and grandchildren in the same way, passing on the traditional values she learned from her elders and Henry.
Prairie has been involved in different capacities with Thaidene Nëné since 2015. Currently, she is the coordinator for Ni Hat’ni Dene (Watchers of the Land), Thaidene Nëné’s Indigenous guardian program. Started in 2008, Ni Hat’ni Dene only operated in the summer months. As of January 2020, Ni Hat’ni Dene is now a year-round program.
Prairie likes the pace of the work as the coordinator: “There is always lots to do. Even after five years, I’m learning every day.” She also enjoys her colleagues: “We have a really good staff team in Thaidene Nëné.” But more than anything, she likes the fact that by supporting Ni Hat’ni Dene, she is contributing to the protection of her territory: “It gives me a sense of security to know we have people out there on the land that are from the community and they are protecting the water, the land, the animals, the fish. They are watching who comes to Thaidene Nëné.”
Prairie occasionally goes out on patrol with Ni Hat’ni Dene. For the most part though, she stays in town, making sure the four full-time guardians have whatever they need to do their jobs safely and effectively, whether they are watching over sacred sites on Tu Nedhé (Great Slave Lake), monitoring caribou on hazú (tundra), or interacting with visitors to Thaidene Nëné.
For Prairie, one of the strengths of the program is the intergenerational nature of the Ni Hat’ni Dene crew: “The juniors are better with technology. The seniors have more advanced traditional skills. So they teach and learn from each other.”
Prairie welcomes visitors to Thaidene Nëné. She wants them to see the beautiful and abundant land that has long been home to her ancestors. She also wants them to know that Thaidene Nëné exists because of the vision and the hard work of her community: “It took us 50 years, but we created a park and now we are carrying out our responsibilities as protectors of the land in our way.”
MEDIA RELEASE: Łutsël K’é Dene First Nation Co-recipient of Premier’s Award for Work on Protected Areas Legislation
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 17, 2020 – Łutsël K’é, NT
The Łutsël K’é Dene First Nation is honoured to be named a co-recipient of the 2020 Premier’s Award for Indigenous Partnership, alongside other members of the Protected Areas Act Technical Working Group.
The Premier’s Award for Indigenous Partnerships recognizes the outstanding accomplishments of GNWT employees and teams who work in partnership with Indigenous governments and organizations to strengthen programs and policies, improve access to services for NWT residents, enhance intergovernmental cooperation, and strengthen bilateral relationships.
Formed in 2018, the Technical Working Group, of which the Łutsël K’é Dene First Nation was an active and valued member, played a critical role in the development of the protected areas legislation which came into came into force on July 20, 2019. The Protected Areas Act provides the legislative framework for protecting, conserving, and maintaining biodiversity, ecological integrity, and cultural continuity of the NWT through the creation of a network of permanent protected areas that are representative of the ecosystems and cultural landscapes found in the territory.
The protected areas legislation has been of particular interest to the Łutsël K’é Dene First Nation as it has sought the establishment of the Thaidene Nëné Indigenous Protected Area. Thaidene Nëné means the Land of the Ancestors in Dënesųłıné. In August 2019, approximately 9,100 square kilometres of the area designated by Łutsël K’é Dene First Nation as the Thaidene Nëné Indigenous Protected Area became the first territorial protected area under the new Protected Areas Act.
The Thaidene Nëné Indigenous Protected Area also includes a National Park Reserve (14,070 km2) and a soon to be established Wildlife Conservation Area (3,120 km2). In total, Thaidene Nëné protects 26,376 square kilometres of boreal forest and tundra, the heart of the Łutsël K’é Dene’s traditional territory.
Chief Darryl Marlowe says, “The Łutsël K’é Dene First Nation has long been an advocate for conservation measures that respect inherent and treaty rights and allow for the continuation of the Dënesųłıné way of life long into the future. We are happy to see that, as a result of our involvement with the Technical Working Group, the new legislation allows for us to protect our land from development and maintain our land-based ways of life.”
The protected areas legislation that was developed with the guidance of the Technical Working Group including the Łutsël K’é Dene First Nation protects designated areas from industrial and commercial development, while still allowing for sustainable tourism, traditional economies, and conservation economy opportunities. Under the Protected Areas Act, territorial protected areas are co-governed and co-managed by Indigenous governments and the GNWT as outlined in collaboratively developed governance and management plans.
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This is the fourth 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.
Growing up, Jason Michel didn’t spend a lot of time in town and he preferred it that way: “I was raised travelling on the land with my parents, Mary-Jane and Antoine Michael, and sleeping in a tent. I loved that. It was more fun out there than in town.” You can imagine how happy Jason was then when he was offered one of four full-time guardian positions with Ni Hat’ni Dene in January 2020. Not only would he get paid to spend time on the land, but he would also have the opportunity to pass on what he had learned from his parents.
Jason is a senior guardian, which means that one of his responsibilities is to pass along traditional practices and knowledge to with the junior guardians and the youth who are part of the summer crew. One value he shares with them is the importance of listening to the elders: “They are wiser than us. What they say goes. If they don’t think it’s right, they tell us.”
Inspired by the elders, Jason takes his role as a watcher of the land very seriously. He feels a deep responsibility as Łutsël K’é Dene and a senior guardian with Ni Hat’ni Dene to “protect the land.” Patrolling Thaidene Nëné, watching over the special places, the animals, and the fish are all part of his responsibilities as a guardian. As important as being a good steward is being a good host: “I enjoy welcoming people to Thaidene Nëné. I especially like being able to tell visitors that this is our park and that we are protecting our park. It feels good to protect our park.”
While all of Thaidene Nëné is important for Jason, he especially likes spending time at Ɂedacho Kúe (Artillery Lake), where Ni Hat’ni Dene have a cabin, because it is so close to the caribou. Taking care of the caribou is an important part of the guardian program; it is also a key part of the responsibility that Jason feels to the land.
In addition to sharing his experience on the land with other members of the Ni Hat’ni Dene, Jason loves spending time on the land with his wife, Jennifer Michel, and their family and passing on what he knows about the land, language, culture, and history of the Łutsël K’é Dene to his daughter, Desiree, and grandson, Easton.
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.