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.”
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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.