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.”
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.