If all works out over the next couple of years, the Yellowknives Dene First Nation (YKDFN) will have a permanent ceremonial structure built at the traditional Wiliideh site on the Yellowknife River.
Ndilo Chief Ernest Betsina of YKDFN said, after many years, he is looking to have an arbour as a place of gathering for Dene members. He said he envisions one that would be “circular or octagon type” similar to other communities in the NWT, but one that would also have the distinct character of YKDFN members.
“The idea has been thought about for over a decade now and the structure would be a significant addition to the site of the Wiliideh,” he said. “It would the accommodate the activities of the Yellowknives Dene First Nation, and any guests that may come there. So it’s very important.”
There are several other arbours used by Indigenous nations throughout Canada and the Northwest Territories, including in places like the nearby Deh Gáh Got’îê First Nation in Fort Providence and the Liidlii Kue First Nation in Fort Simpson.
The City of Yellowknife is also exploring the creation of a similar arbour feature within the municipal boundary. City councillors were asked earlier this week to spend $50,000 on a study on just that and were told the YKDFN would be consulted on a location if the project moves forward.
Chief Betsina and Ryan Peters, YKDFN community and public works manager said in an interview on Wednesday that their idea is to have an arbour similar to other communities, but which also encompasses the character and history of local Dene members.
“We we want to have our own arbour and a home of our own,” Betsina said. “We see it as a place where members can say that they have their own arbour, and it’s theirs. It would be a place of gathering and a place of a significance to the history of the Wiliideh site.”
The aim is to have a final design for YKDFN council to review b year’s end.
“We’ve already started to move on the geotechnical investigation of the site,” he said. “We’ve done a topographical survey on the site. We are currently in discussions with an architectural company to look at the schematic design of the actual structure, including the functionality of it.”
Peters said that the final design will need to be able to accommodate various events throughout the year that the Yellowknives Dene hold, including drumming events, handgames and fire feeding ceremonies, plus room for an audience. What material will be used is also up in the air.
“Obviously we want something that reflects the culture and the history of the Yellowknives Dene, but also something that is able to withstand the climate of the North,” Peters said. He added a permanent structure will come in handy for a lot of activities at the site: every year a tent has been put up to provide needed shelter.
“You can appreciate that to have cultural events of significance within a tent that is now quite a few years old, is at the very least not appropriate or doesn’t really reflect the importance of the events that occur there,” Peters said.
Time permitting, Betsina wants to ensure Elders and the broader YKDFN membership have a chance to provide their input, too.
“The Elders really want to see this happen, especially in the summer months as well as the spring and fall events,” Betsina said. “They want to be able to go to the Wiliideh site and enjoy the outdoors and enjoy the fact that festivities are happening.”