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.
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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.