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GNWT defends decision to search camp following Lutsel K’e Dene First Nation outrage

The Lutsel K’e Dene First Nation (LKDFN) was looking for answers following what’s being described as a “forceful invasion” of its cultural camp inside the Thaidene Nene National Park Reserve.
This caribou leg was part of what the Department of Environment and Natural Resources says was illegally harvested from the Mobile Core Bathurst Caribou Management Zone near Lutsel K’e earlier this month. Photo courtesy of Environment and Natural Resources

The Lutsel K’e Dene First Nation (LKDFN) was looking for answers following what’s being described as a “forceful invasion” of its cultural camp inside the Thaidene Nene National Park Reserve.

According to a press release issued late Wednesday afternoon, LKDFN wants the GNWT to look into an alleged raid of the camp on Sept. 13 by wildlife officers. The news release says that government officials descended on the camp by helicopter. Community members were reportedly told that the officers were there to investigate alleged illegal hunting within the mobile core Bathurst Caribou management zone, which LKDFN says is located 150-km north of the camp at Timber Bay, on Artillery Lake.

The news release also alleges that wildlife officers threatened to press charges of obstruction and to bring in additional officers if people refused to comply with their demands. The search lasted four hours, according to the LKDFN, with samples of country food seized.

Iris Catholique, Thaidene Nene manager for the LKDFN, stated in the news release that she was shocked that the GNWT would take such actions.

“This was a completely unreasonable search and an unnecessary violation of our Aboriginal and treaty rights,” Catholique said. “It reminds us that all the talk about reconciliation and new relationships is just talk until there is a real change in how other governments deal with us on the ground. These kinds of tactics remind us of the past when our people were persecuted by wildlife officers for practising their way of life.”

Environment and Natural Resources (ENR) Minister Shane Thompson responded to the allegations on Sept. 15, saying that two wildlife officers were investigating two separate reports from the public of illegal harvesting happening within the caribou management zone.

Thompson said 10 caribou in total were harvested, all located inside the zone, with a significant amount of edible meat wasted. The officers entered the site with a search warrant, he added, with no more information being released at the present time as it is an ongoing investigation.

Catholique also alleges that children were crying and Elders were traumatized during the search and that tents and tepees were entered.

Charlie Catholique, LKDFN’s acting chief, said the matter has been referred to the First Nation’s lawyer, Larry Innes.

“We will defend our members’ ability to exercise their rights and practise their way of life in peace,” he said. “We are seeking a full explanation and an apology from the GNWT for this incident.”

ENR stated that the management zone was implemented in 2015 with the support of Indigenous governments and Indigenous organizations who traditionally harvest from the Bathurst herd — including the Wek’eezhii Renewable Resources Board. The department also said it has been working with leaders from the Yellowknives Dene First Nation, the Tłıicho Government, Lutsel K’e Dene First Nation, North Slave Métis Alliance, Denınu Kue First Nation, Salt River First Nation and the Northwest Territories Metis Nation to support the recovery of the Bathurst herd, which has seen its numbers drop from 470,000 in 1986 to just 6,200 in 2021.

The Lutsel K’e Dene First Nation is accusing GNWT wildlife officers of raiding one its camp at Timber Bay, on Artillery Lake, on Sept. 13. Contributed photo .