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Dene Nation pleads with bootleggers to end harm

National Chief of the Dene Nation, Norman Yakeleya sais in an Aug. 20 press conference that he is pleased with the result of the federal Indian Day School Settlement. He also said there is a lot of work left to do for his people. Brett McGarry / NNSL photo

The Dene Nation's national chief is calling out bootleggers and the damage that they are doing to communities throughout the North.

"We're asking the bootleggers if they would really think of what you're doing. Is it really worth the money of the prices they are doing in the booze?" says Dene National Chief Norman Yakeleya.
NNSL file photo

Norman Yakeleya has been adamant in recent weeks, particularly since the Covid-19 pandemic state of emergency was announced in March, that the influx of alcohol in Dene Nation communities is out of control.

He has repeatedly stated that the negative impact of liquor in Dene communities has been "magnified" during the Covid-19 crisis as it has continued to fuel public gatherings despite public health bans of groups by chief public health officer Dr. Kami Kandola.

Yakeleya expressed condolences to the Tlicho government after a Behchoko woman was killed in a vehicle rollover on Highway 3 on April 23. As alcohol was determined to be a factor in the tragic incident, an arrest warrant was issued for the driver on April 27.

The Dene Nation chief said the incident was another sad reminder of how alcohol distribution has had a historically devastating impact on Dene communities.

"Like many other Dene communities, our young people are leaving us too soon and our young people are in the dark clouds and are lost," he said during an April 24 news conference.

He pleaded with people selling alcohol illegally to stop and for all levels of government and individuals to step up to protect communities and families.

"Too many families are struggling. Too many kids are being hurt. Too many people are hurting each other," he said. "We're asking the bootleggers if they would really think of what you're doing. Is it really worth the money of the prices they are doing in the booze?"

In continued consultation with chiefs across the North, as well as elders and knowledge-keepers, Yakeleya said it's important to identify problems associated with alcohol and for Dene communities to take ownership of it.

He reiterated that 10 communities keep fighting to get RCMP officers while eight require nurses.

There's also a need for specialized addictions treatment centres in the NWT, said Yakeleya, who named the Alkali Lake Alcohol Rehab Centre in British Columbia as a leading example.

The Dene Nation convinced the GNWT to limit liquor store hours and to put a cap on the amount of alcohol sold during the pandemic, but the territorial government is only part of the equation.

"There's legal and illegal activities happening around (the alcohol problem) to contribute to what the chiefs are asking, both the Government of the Northwest Territories and our own community members who are known as bootleggers," Yakeleya said, pleading for all to do their part to keep Dene communities and families alive and prosperous.

He added that communities having access to money from the government has contributed to the bootlegging problem.

"That is a major issue that the chiefs are looking at," noting the Indian Day School settlement funds, as well as other forms of social assistance. He said a lot of those cheques are in the thousands of dollars per recipient. At least one grand chief has told him that teaching financial literacy is becoming more important.

"So if you go and look in the communities, there is money there because the government takes the responsibility of the public housing unit or units owned by a person, and they pay for all the bills," he said. "They even give them a vouchers and they are even giving them money to go to the store to buy things -- and that is all on the government.

"You know they are creating a dependency and that is really hard to break."

Chief Joachim Bonnetrouge of the Deh Gah Got'ie First Nation in Fort Providence said last week that the RCMP has complained to him about the community's ATMs not being able to keep up with the cash demands among members, particularly because of federal money pouring in.

"The drug dealers and the bootleggers, they know when our towns are flush with cash," he said.