A Łútsël K'é Dene First Nation cultural camp. Photo supplied by the Łútsël K'é Dene First Nation
More than a year after NWT wildlife officers searched a culture camp, an act that triggered condemnation from various Indigenous leaders and groups, there is no sign of a promised review of that incident.
The territorial government says an investigation into alleged illegal caribou harvesting – an investigation that prompted the search in question on September 13, 2022 – is still ongoing.
The territory has stood by that investigation, saying the work is important and must be carried out. “This matters,” a spokesperson said last year, pointing to declining caribou numbers.
But 12 months later, there remains no estimated date for the investigation to conclude and no update regarding the investigation’s progress or parameters.
The Łútsël K’é Dene First Nation has asserted that the search at its Timber Bay camp amounted to an “aggressive and disrespectful” raid, characterizing the two officers’ actions as an over-the-top and traumatizing display of force.
The search warrant relied upon by those officers was later quashed by the NWT Supreme Court.
An independent review of what took place was promised by the territorial government more than a year ago, but environment minister Shane Thompson said on Friday there was no date for that review to even begin.
“These incidences are still being investigated for suspected illegal harvest in a mobile zone,” Thompson said in the legislature.
“I can tell you that I met with the chief last fall and have written to him to offer to work on reconciliation efforts once an investigation is complete,” the minister said.
That frustration was shared on Friday by Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh MLA Richard Edjericon, who has repeatedly raised the Timber Bay search in the legislature in the months since it took place.
“We were told it was going to take six months. Here we are, a year later, and we still don’t see anything,” Edjericon said.
“The court already made a decision that this was unlawful.”
Other than saying it remained open, the minister provided no further detail regarding the investigation. The Department of Environment and Climate Change has been approached for more information.
Asked if there had been an internal review of the search – rather than the external review that is still awaited – Thompson said: “We have a process. We have investigations going on.”
He did note that an independent party had been identified to carry out the review, without stating which party that was, and said terms of reference for the review had been developed.
But without any sign of the original investigation into illegal harvesting ending, any review could still be months or years away – and many of those present may be relying on increasingly distant memories – by the time that process begins.
“Will the minister drop this pointless investigation and own up to his mistakes that were made by offering the community of Łútsël K’é a sincere apology?” Edjericon asked.
“I’ve acknowledged that the search of Timber Bay was very difficult for some of the people at the camp, who were not harvesting wildlife or who were harvesting wildlife in a respectful and lawful way,” Thompson said, quoting part of a statement he originally gave in May.
“Investigations are done independently, by officers, not by myself,” he added.
“We allow officers to do their work. The investigation into suspected illegal harvesting in the mobile zone and wastage of edible caribou is ongoing. Once this is all said and done, I would like to be able to say: ‘Here, this is what we’re doing.’
“Until that is done, I need to follow the process.”