Traditional teachings and cultural reawakenings above the Arctic Circle
Enbridge sponsorships help Indigenous groups in Northwest Territories re-establish their connection to the land
Remote? Inhospitable? Empty?
Actually, the vast Canadian Arctic is teeming with life—and Indigenous communities in the Northwest Territories are discovering it all over again.
In 2019, groups like the Tulita Dene Band, the Liidlii Kue First Nation and the Fort Simpson Métis embarked on Enbridge-sponsored treks into the wilderness—reintroducing their members to the traditional cultural way of life, and re-establishing a connection with wildlife and their environmental knowledge.
“We took our community residents out on the land to Stewart Lake, a traditional area where our ancestors would hunt to survive and feed their families,” says Sally Horassi, manager for the Tulita Dene Band.
“It’s important for us to reintroduce culture to our young families, and emphasize the value of living in a traditional culture.”
In September, a group of six elders from Tulita Dene Band took an extended family of 23, ranging in age from 4 up to 78, out on the land to Stewart Lake for 15 days.
Here are some excerpts from their daily diary:
Day 2: “Journey by boat from Tulita to Stewart Lake took eight hours. During the boat ride, parents showed secret areas on the journey and paid respect by throwing matches, cigarettes, pieces of food, and wool or yarn on willow into the river, to acknowledge our past ancestors and ensure a safe journey.”
Day 3: “David informs his grandchildren to always be equipped with a rifle, axe, snacks and water when walking on a traditional trail, and to leave marks to guide their return to their cabins.”
Day 4: “In our traditional values, when a young man shoots his first big game, the young man must be acknowledged with respect. This will honor the ‘new hunter.’ David Jr. shot a caribou; the meat was cut and hauled to the campsite. The older grandchildren realized meat is heavy to carry to camp, and shooting one big game is all that is needed.”
Image gallery: Traditional teachings in the NWT
Day 5: “Younger grandchildren were shown how to cut meat. The lesson was to show respect for food. The family patiently waited for the meat to dry, and then taste test the first dry meat made by the younger girls.”
Day 6: “The lake was calm, and it was a good day to introduce fishing. We reintroduced paddling and steering the canoe, and the lesson was to work together when canoeing and look after each other.”
Day 7: “Today the weather was very co-operative. We decided to pick cranberries.”
Day 8: “Today’s activity was to pack dry meat in bags and store it. The grandparents dug a hole in the ground as cold storage to keep the dry meat fresh. This lesson was an amazement to the grandchildren, who also learned to cover the hole with boards or branches to keep predators away.”
Day 11: “Today’s lesson was to set snares in the morning and check in the evening. Grandparents also showed snowshoes, how they are made, and how they are good for winter and can be used to check snares.”
Day 13: “Today’s lesson was to introduce Dene medicine to the grandchildren. To keep the knowledge in the family, this has not been written down.”
At Enbridge, we see our relationships with Indigenous communities near our operations as mutually beneficial—economically, socially and culturally. As part of this relationship, we regularly fund these cultural reawakenings in the Northwest Territories with donations of $15,000 for two-week journeys or $7,500 for shorter excursions.
“This project was so successful,” says Horassi. “Some younger family members experienced Stewart Lake for the very first time—and many of them wanted to stay longer.”