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."
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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.