My mom and I and her best friend made the trip up to Whati a few weeks ago to check out the new road leading to the small Northern community on the edge of the water, a place we had never been before, even though our bloodline is Tlicho, being that my grandmother’s uncle was Chief Monwfi, the leader who signed the treaty 100 years ago.

Before Whati, we stopped in Behchoko (we still call it Fort Rae out of habit) to visit relatives and look for drymeat but found none. The last time I went to Behchoko, my great aunt Katlia took me door to door looking for caribou meat. She is a fast little Elder. We couldn’t keep up with her as she jumped out of the passenger side of the vehicle and ran up the stairs of people she knew to ask if they had caribou meat to give away. Everyone said the same thing, their freezers were empty. She finally gave up and brought me to her son’s house, who had an abundance of meat laid out on the table and floors. She was testing others to see if they would share first, whether or not they had caribou in their freezers we will never know, but I suspect that some did, thus breaking one of the cardinal Dene laws.

We then went to visit my grandmother’s grave at the cemetery, but I was wary about going there after my cousin was almost attacked by a pack of dogs when we visited last. Because of this, we drove into the sanded cemetery as far as we could go before getting out and walking a few feet to say a prayer and place an offering at my grandmother’s plot, but when we heard dogs barking in the distance growing louder and angrier, we made a run back to our vehicle. You know a place is lacking spiritually when you cannot visit the graves of your loved ones without fear.

Driving through the streets of Behchoko, we noticed that nearly every house had a broken window and was boarded up with plywood or cardboard. Now, I don’t want to dismiss the work that Tlicho Nation has been doing to try to address the social problems in Behchoko, especially after the Tlicho Assembly just took place where the youth went on a journey across the lake from Behchoko to Wahti, but through the ripples in the water there are whispers.

Late-night gambling is resulting in parental neglect. Bullying is prominent. Suicide among our vibrant youth, who had their whole lives ahead of them only to be taken too soon, is on the rise. Petty crime and drug and alcohol abuse is normal. Some have become so numb to all this that they turn a blind eye. I don’t visit often, but I recall about a decade ago when I visited Behchoko there were small children in diapers running around inside houses with firearms lying around in plain sight. This small community should not be in the same lane as the likes of Mexico City, not when it’s a self-governing nation that is supposed to be strong like two people.

It’s no secret that there is misogyny that still exists within our Northern communities stemming from the Indian Act, and this needs to change once and for all. Women and children must be held up equally. During the Dene National Assembly, I did not see any youth representatives for the Tlicho Government. Why is that? Where were the youth? We desperately need their innovative, imaginative, uncorrupted thoughts to make good future decisions for the betterment of all community members, decisions that have action behind them. Decisions that are different than the same old talk that we hear year after year, election after election with little change.

As much as the Tlicho Government is proud of the road that’s been built to Whati, I hope that this will not change the beautiful community for the worse, writes columnist Katlia Lafferty. Photo courtesy of Katlia Lafferty

Green energy in Whati

My back is still sore from the drive to Whati. I tensed up on the narrow turns that felt like I was driving on a washboard. A pair of whooping cranes flew out in front of us in the evening setting sun and I thought for a moment it was an extinct tetradactyl since I felt so far removed from modern times out there in the rugged wilderness, where the lazy bison nap in the ditches switching their tails back and forth to swat the bugs.

Even though they are under the same Tlicho Government, Behchoko and Whati are so very different. Behchoko could learn a lesson or two from Whati in so many ways. For one, they could start looking into running their own green energy systems. Whati is currently running a biomass heater that is connected to all their major facilities where they are selling energy back to the government, and even though they are breaking even cost-wise, they are in control of their own sovereignty. Best of all, the money they do eventually make from this operation can go back into social programs that community members can access. Leaders not just in Behchoko, but all over the North, must assert their Aboriginal rights and title to implement independent green energy alternatives into their communities to reduce the cost of living, which, by default, will help to reduce crime and poverty and live in alignment with the Dene principles of caring for the land.

Pulling into Whati, we instantly noticed that it was a marked departure from Behchoko. It is colorful, tidy and friendly. Could it be that easy access to Behchoko has invited in unwelcome social problems with no way of keeping unwanted visitors out? As much as the Tlicho Government is proud of the road that’s been built, I hope that this will not change the beautiful community of Whati for the worse, where four wheelers (the main way to get around) will be replaced by more and more vehicles; where a heavier police presence will be required; where the hidden waterfall, that evaded us on the way there and back, will be treaded and littered upon by those who don’t know how to respect all things sacred and pure.

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  1. This perspective is from someone that looks at a the surface and takes gossip at face value. Behchoko isn’t a pretty town and with the amount of loss the community has suffered, I’m surprised she didn’t complain about the people lining the streets numbing their sorrow.

    I grew up in the community and know it doesn’t seem like a nice town, full of people that don’t trust outside perspectives or help.

    This is due to our history of residential schools and disappointment. Intergenerational trauma is no more apparent in Behchoko than anywhere else.

    They come from a generation where “Indians” were often paid in alcohol or tricked out of values they didn’t know the price of. A generation who were preyed upon and only know how to numb and ignore the horrors of what the people in power can do.

    It’s people may be rough around the edges and it reflects the attitude of outsiders back to them; we respect you as long as you are willing to respect us. Teachers and Cops often don’t last around here unless they understand that.

    My 80 year old mother doesn’t even have drymeat in the freezer, let alone enough to give to some city people just showing up at her door. Many of my other relatives are the same, caribou is getting harder to come by.

    Our community takes gun violence seriously; when someone hears or notices a person with a gun, it spreads throughout the town in warnings. Our people take care of their own.

    The youth have been running to help take over our community but our elders are always at the forefront to share their love and knowledge. Just because you don’t see them, doesn’t meant they are there helping and busy running around.

    Whati is able to keep its natural beauty and it’s town from suffering so much since it’s been so far out of reach for many people until recently. I prey it’ll keep its nature and peace with all the industry going to the community.

    This lady talks about being strong like two people, spirituality, things being sacred and pure, but grew up in they city full of white influences and beliefs. Not understanding that being strong like two people came from knowing our survival will come with innovative and change and being able to practice our culture in what way we can.

  2. I think it’s good to talk about these types of issues in our communities, however, it is harmful to write an article that talks about a small Indigenous community in such a harsh and negative light. There is good aspects to talk about too, even when trying to tackle heavier topics.

  3. lol who the hell does this woman think she is? she sound super entitled for someone that didn’t even grow up in Behchoko. it isn’t a perfect town but we don’t belittle or shame our own, we help and guide for those who seek it. And if you did stick around you’d see that there are many young individuals taking action.
    The whole Trail of Our Ancestors trip is to bring everyone together, and the majority of who went is the youth.
    & “my back is still sore from the way to Whati” like calm down, not every road (we just finished not too long ago may i add) is gonna be paved!

  4. the nwt doesn’t claim this “reporter” as one of their own after this article… also that first paragraph being 1 sentence was a tough read.

  5. Spelling error! Whati not Wahti!

    ….licho Assembly just took place where the youth went on a journey across the lake from Behchoko to Wahti, but through the ripples in the water there are whispers…..

  6. Ak47s lying on the floor?? Hahah what the hell, she has no idea what she is talking about and let alone what it’s like living in these small communities. This is exactly why behchoko has a bad reputation is because of people like these who claim to know what its like living or even know what its about, when in fact they know nothing about it.
    For someone that is tlicho she sure doesn’t sound too proud to be it. Why would you belittle and try to embarrass your own. That’s pretty pathetic and sad if you ask me.

  7. This story was written by a southerns prospective. Limited knowledge and lack of insight to the challenges and struggle we as Tlicho people face. This article is shameful, the writer should actually sit and learn instead of pushing their thoughts on other residents.