In Lutsel K’e, a small community on Great Slave Lake in the Northwest Territories, fishing has always been a way of life. But now it’s even more important as the Lutsel K’e Denesoline people look to their future.
Lutsel K’e is partnering with TNC Canada and others to create a protected area in their Thaidene Nene “Land of the Ancestors”—and this means building a new generation of park managers, rangers and tour guides.
At traditional summer Ni Hat’ni fish camps, Lutsel K’e youth are not only learning to harvest and prepare the season’s catch but also modern-day conservation science in ecology and fisheries management.
Ni Hat’ni summer fish camps are set up about 20 minutes north of Lutsel K’e by boat. Ni Hat’ni Dene translates to “watchers of the land” from Chipewyan, the local Dene language.
A week at the Ni Hat’ni fish camp includes learning to test water quality and take lake trout tissue and organ samples for age and health. Samples are then sent to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to create data for future research. Great Slave Lake is experiencing climate-related changes, including a record-breaking forest fire season last year and decreasing water levels.
“For me it was a good experience to practice hands-on skills that we could use down the road for ourselves and teach others,” said Roger Catholique, a summer fish camp participant. “This is just the beginning, and we hope to learn more as we continue working hard and gaining new knowledge.”
During fish camps, Lutsel K’e youth learn from senior rangers about traditional Denesoline ways of life, like processing fish by smoking over a fire to make dryfish. This delicacy is an important local food source for the community.
Ni Hat’ni fish camp participants also learn how to lead interpretive tours for tourists, sharing their culture and vision to establish the Thaidene Nene “Land of the Ancestors” proposed protected area.