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MLAs press for apology over search at Łútsël K’é culture camp

Environment minister Shane Thompson answers Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh MLA Richard Edjericon's questions in the legislature on Tuesday
Environment minister Shane Thompson answers Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh MLA Richard Edjericon's questions in the legislature on Tuesday.

Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh MLA Richard Edjericon called for the NWT’s environment minister to apologize for a search conducted at the Łútsël K’é Dene First Nation’s culture camp.

Addressing environment minister Shane Thompson during the legislature’s question period on Tuesday, Edjericon asked: “Can the minister apologize sincerely to the Łútsël K’é Dene First Nation (LKDFN) for the unlawful activities of his officers and the trauma it has caused for the community?”

Last month, GNWT wildlife officers searched the camp on Artillery Lake as part of an investigation into the harvesting of 10 caribou inside a no-hunting zone. LKDFN has described the search as traumatic and invasive.

On Monday, a warrant that allowed the officers to search the camp was thrown out by the court. The First Nation had applied to have the warrant quashed, and territorial lawyers did not object.



In a back-and-forth in the legislature on Tuesday, Thompson and Edjericon sparred over whether the search was unlawful and Edjericon repeatedly asked for an apology.

Thompson did not apologize but expressed his willingness to meet and work with the First Nation.

“I’ve reached out to the chief and asked to arrange a face-to-face meeting to discuss how we can continue to work on our collaborative efforts to work together to support the caribou,” Thompson said.

Iris Catholique, who manages the Thaidene Nëné protected area on behalf of the Łútsël K’é Dene First Nation, said the First Nation did receive an email from the minister’s office requesting a meeting regarding the Bathurst herd. No where does the letter speak to the search, she said. “It just speaks to other issues.”



Catholique also said that the email was initially sent to the wrong email address for the First Nation. “That just goes to show there is such a lack of communication,” she said.

On Wednesday, Great Slave MLA Katrina Nokleby also pressed Thompson for answers.

“Why didn’t the minister consider reaching out ahead of time in order to mitigate the situation with the LKDFN?” she asked during the legislature’s question period.

When Nokleby asked if Thompson would apologize, he reiterated his commitment to meet with the First Nation.

“If the authorities found something in my neighborhood, are they going to show up at my door and push their way into my house looking for answers? I don’t think so,” Nokleby said earlier in the proceedings.

Culture camp no longer part of investigation

During Tuesday’s proceedings, Thompson said that, although the investigation into the suspected illegal harvest of caribou remains open, the search at Łutsël K’é’s cultural camp is no longer part of the active investigation. He could therefore share more information reported by the officers.

He said that, after arriving at the camp, the officers met with the camp’s leaders and waited until they consulted their legal counsel before letting the officers proceed with the search.

“This meant that officers did not start their search for close to an hour and 20 minutes after they landed. Leaders of the camp did not agree to a request by the officers to be shown where recently harvested caribou meat was located within the camp, which would have enabled the officers to do a narrower search,” Thompson told the assembly.



Catholique suspects that one of the leaders he was referring to is her. She said she had to separate the officers from the camp because they were already in one of the participant’s tents. She asked them to step aside and wait while she called legal counsel and Łutsël K’é’s leadership from a satellite phone. During that time, she said they threatened her with obstruction.

According to Catholique, the lack of an apology from the minister signals that he is being unreasonable. “When you’re in the wrong, you’re in the wrong,” she said. She sees an apology as a necessary part of reconciliation.

This article is produced under a Creative Commons CC BY-ND 4.0 licence through the Wilfrid Laurier University Climate Change Journalism Fellowship.