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Dene Nation will back call for resignations over cultural camp raid


Leaders at a Dene Nation meeting have passed a motion supporting the Łútsël K’é Dene First Nation’s call for resignations and an apology over a cultural camp raid.

September’s search by wildlife officers of a Łútsël K’é Dene First Nation camp on Artillery Lake has already been referred by the NWT government for review by an outside agency.

In October, Supreme Court Justice Shannon Smallwood quashed the search warrant initially issued to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, whose officers were investigating the harvesting of 10 caribou inside a no-hunting area.

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The warrant allowed officers entry to the camp, which included a cabin, roughly two dozen tents and tepees, freezers, caches, and other facilities. The First Nation had argued the warrant was overly broad and the search had traumatized some of those present.

The Dene Nation and Łútsël K’é’s MLA, Richard Edjericon, have each called for an apology from the NWT government and environment minister Shane Thompson. Thompson said in October he had reached out to arrange a meeting with the First Nation but, asked in the legislature if he would apologize, did not do so.

At a meeting in Yellowknife last week, Dene chiefs backed a motion instructing the Dene Nation to continue demanding an apology for the search, seek restitution from the GNWT, and urge that the “authorities responsible for the raid resign from their positions.”

The same motion sought an independent investigation with “full Dene involvement at all levels.”

The motion passed to applause.

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Speaking at the meeting, Łútsël K’é Dene First Nation member JC Catholique said: “This is a really serious situation that we had to deal with. I saw it first-hand.

“The big thing for us is that there was no protocol. They just showed up all of a sudden with their choppers and … some of the scenes we saw at Standing Rock, what’s happening down in the States? It just reminded me of that, the way they were dressed and the way they were behaving.

“This is the beginning of a process where our partnership has been breached. We want to deal with it and we still want to meet with the minister and talk to him about that. We might proceed further, it’s up to the community.”

Wildlife officers at a cultural camp on Artillery Lake
Wildlife officers at a cultural camp on Artillery Lake. Photo: Iris Catholique

During October’s appearance in the NWT legislature, Thompson said the investigation into suspected illegal harvesting of caribou remains open – but the search at Łutsël K’é’s cultural camp is no longer part of the active investigation.

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The minister said officers met with camp leaders on arrival and waited until those leaders had consulted legal counsel before proceeding with the search.

“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 fellow MLAs at the time.

The Łútsël K’é First Nation, by contrast, has said the manner of the search was “aggressive and disrespectful.”

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources did not respond to requests for comment sent on Tuesday.