The December 2022 edition of the Thaidene Nëné newsletter is hot off the press!
While the pandemic continues, things felt a little more normal in the Thaidene Nëné Indigenous Protected Area this year. Ni Hat’ni Dene had a full calendar of patrols, research and monitoring, training, and camps over the last twelve months; five young people were mentored by the guardians as part of the 2022 summer student program; Frontier Lodge had one of its busiest seasons to date; and Thaidene Nëné Xá Dá Yáłtı has been making progress in developing and implementing governance policies and moving the management planning process forward.
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We will have paper copies for community members shortly. In the meantime, check out the digital version.
When Sunrise Lockhart, who was born and raised in Łutsël K’é, returned to the community after graduating from high school in Fort Smith, he worked with the recreation department, where he gained valuable experience delivering and later designing and managing programming. From there, he was hired on as the youth coordinator, a position that further expanded his administrative skills. While he enjoyed this work, he found himself spending all of his free time on the land, reconnecting with the knowledge and skills that had been passed on to him by his family.
Sunrise’s earliest memories on the land are with his paternal grandparents, Bernadette and Joe Lockhart. They would take him out whenever they could, for picnics on the side of the road, visits to their cabin, and hunting trips further afield. As Sunrise got older, he and his family, including his parents, James and Sandra Lockhart, and brother, Chase, would go out with other families, spending weeks at a time camping and harvesting.
As he rediscovered his connection to the land and his Łutsël K’é Dene culture, Sunrise started to seek out work opportunities that would allow him to spend time in the bush, which is how he ended up at the cultural exchange camp, a gathering of Dene from Łutsël K’é and Maori from Aotearoa (New Zealand) at Ɂedacho Tłaze (Timber Bay) on Ɂedacho Kúe (Artillery Lake) this past September. Working alongside Ni Hat’ni Dene, the Indigenous guardians of Thaidene Nëné, Sunrise was responsible for making sure the camps were set up well and had wood and water. “I liked the work environment,” he recalls. “Being out on the land but also being part of a team. You accomplish things when you work together.”
Coincidentally, as the gathering ended, the department was looking for a new coordinator for the Ni Hat’ni Dene program. In addition to being attracted to the work environment, Sunrise welcomed the opportunity to give back to his community by supporting the guardians. “We face challenges in Łutsël K’é,” he explains. “The Thaidene Nëné Department is doing important work, helping out with employment, offering meaningful programming, promoting cultural activities, providing educational opportunities.”
Like so many in the community, Sunrise loves spending time at Kaché (Fort Reliance). Desnéthcheé, the spiritual gathering that draws Łutsël K’é Dene to Reliance each summer, started around the time that Sunrise was born, so he grew up attending the gathering. It remains an important part of his summer plans. Ɂedacho Kúe is another special place for Sunrise, a destination for harvesting in the fall and the winter: “I look forward to going up there to hunt for caribou, to fish and trap, but also just to walk on the barrenlands.”
Looking to the future, Sunrise would like to see more involvement from the community in the protected area. “Thaidene Nëné is important because our way of life is out there,” he explains. Not only do Łutsël K’é Dene depend on the land for sustenance, but who they are as Indigenous people is rooted in the land. In addition to sustaining a way of life, spending time on the land is important for wellbeing more broadly. “Being out on the land is good for you physically,” Sunrise believes. “It also gives you a sense of purpose.” Perhaps not surprisingly given his background, he wants to ensure there are opportunities for young people to learn and ultimately to participate in protecting their land. “Elders are disappearing,” Sunrise observes. “It is important that we conserve their ways and pass that along to the younger generations."
Rubin Fatt became a Ni Hat’ni Dene guardian in July of this year, a notoriously busy time for Łutsël K’é’s Thaidene Nëné Department. “Denecho [Catholique] and I were out on the land all summer,” he recalls, referring to one of the other guardians. “We were patrolling, travelling back and forth to Reliance to work on the cabin and get ready for the spiritual gathering, putting signs up, hosting visitors.” Thankfully, Rubin had previous experience working with the department as a contractor, so the learning curve wasn’t too steep.
Born and raised in Łutsël K’é, Rubin learned how to be on the land from his maternal grandparents, Mary and Pierre Fatt. “When I was a kid, we would go in the bush lots,” Rubin remembers. Rubin also credits his late godfather, Sammy Boucher, with teaching him how to travel and live on the land, but in particular, teaching him about trapping.
Rubin is happiest when he is in the bush. “I love camping in every season, summer, winter,” he says, and he prefers to get his food from the land instead of the Coop. “My family likes traditional food, so I’m always out setting nets, going for ptarmigan.” He also keeps busy cutting wood. “I always have a lot of wood,” he adds, with a laugh.
Rubin’s favourite place in Thaidene Nëné is Kaché (Fort Reliance). He has fond memories of visiting Madeline Drybones’s cabin, “Madeline was my mum’s mum’s sister. Every year when I was a kid, we would go and camp at her place, me, my uncles, and friends.” He also likes attending the annual spiritual gathering at Desnéthcheé.
Rubin welcomed the creation of the Thaidene Nëné Indigenous Protected Area in 2019. “It’s good to protect our land, our animals, and our water from mining,” he says. “It’s good for our future, for our kids’ future, and their kids’ future.” In addition to ensuring permanent protection for the land of the ancestors, Thaidene Nëné has meant jobs, good jobs that are based in the community, for Łutsël K’é Dene like Rubin. And while he is thankful to have work that he enjoys and that pays well, he also recognizes there are others in the community who need jobs. Looking to the future, Rubin would like to see more employment opportunities connected to the protected area for local people.
When the Thaidene Nëné Department announced it was in need of a new guardian last fall, Kevin Fatt jumped at the opportunity. “I’d been working in town way too much,” he explains. “I was always wanting to go out on the land, but there was never enough time.” A position with Ni Hat’ni Dene meant it would be Kevin’s job to spend time on the land. Kevin was no stranger to the department. He had been working on a contract basis since Ni Hat’ni Dene became a full-time, year-round program in January 2020. (Prior to this, Ni Hat’ni Dene guardians worked seasonally.)
Kevin is well-suited to being a guardian. First, he has solid bush skills, having been raised by his maternal grandparents, Pierre and Mary Fatt. “They’re the ones that taught me how to live off the land,” Kevin says. “How to harvest, when to harvest, how to survive off the land.” Thanks to their careful instruction, Kevin came to love travelling on the land and spending time in the bush and on the tundra. Second, Kevin is a capable mechanic, who enjoys fixing things and problem solving. These are important skills for Ni Hat’ni Dene, who spend much of the summer and winter months away from the community out on patrol and need to be self-sufficient. Third, Kevin enjoys meeting new people, which is another feature of life on patrol. In the summer months especially, Ni Hat’ni Dene interact with visitors from all over the world, acting as ambassadors for the protected area.
Like so many in the community, Kevin has to work to identify a favourite place in Thaidene Nëné. “It doesn’t matter where I am,” he says. “It’s just being out there.” If he has to choose though, he would pick Kaché (Fort Reliance) and Ts’ąkuı Theda (Lady of the Falls) because of the deep history that Łutsël K’é Dene have there and the many stories tied to the area.
Kevin takes his position with Ni Hat’ni Dene seriously because it’s an inherited responsibility. “Our ancestors told us to watch over Thaidene Nëné,” he explains. “It’s our turn now to carry on their tradition.” Recognizing the importance of future generations to protecting the land and ensuring the continuation of Łutsël K’é Dene culture, Kevin wants to involve young people more in the work of caring for Thaidene Nëné, so one day they can take over this responsibility.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.
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.