Dene Nation pursues bootleggers, new forms of government

Dene National Chief Norman Yakeleya addresses reporters in June 2019
Dene National Chief Norman Yakeleya addresses reporters in June 2019. Sara Wicks/Cabin Radio

The Dene Nation returned to the issue of bootlegging this week as it continued to appeal for territorial government help during the pandemic.

Dene National Chief Norman Yakeleya said Dene communities could not be solely responsible for a problem that existed prior to self-government, under the colonial rule of the federal and territorial governments.

Yakeleya acknowledged bootlegging was “ultimately the community’s responsibility” and residents had to take responsibility to “close the bootleggers down.”

But he said the territorial government had to play a larger role.



“They ultimately hold the liquor laws [under] that government,” said Yakeleya. “Alcohol was brought in with the federal government, unilaterally making the Northwest Territories under their administrative control with their own laws  … and that alcohol has devastated a lot of the communities of the Indigenous people.”

Yakeleya couldn’t say what Dene communities have put in place to deal with bootlegging. He did, though, stress that territorial leaders should be sitting with First Nations and other leaders to work through common concerns.

That call was enshrined in a document entitled the Dene Nation Post-Pandemic Economic Reset Plan. The plan was sent to Premier Caroline Cochrane and her cabinet last week.

“The territorial government has not caught up to today’s reality of 2020,” Yakeleya told reporters by conference call on Thursday.



“And after all this they say, ‘Now you guys, you’re responsible, you do this.’

“You know, they made a mess. They made a terrible mess in regards to governing our people, without any type of respect to the people’s way of life, to the system of our leadership. 

“And now they’re telling us now to clean up after this mess. They can’t just wash their hands and tell people to clean up the mess after they’ve been a major contributor to that mess.”

In the discussion paper sent to the Premier, the Dene chiefs propose a change in governance with an elected northern leaders’ and intergovernmental table.

The paper touches on means of renewing the economy post-pandemic, such as the energy sector, expedited land claims, mine remediation, housing, and education.

“Look around at the housing situation, the overcrowding,” said Yakeleya. “Look at the lack of education, the quality of education of our students, or health care.

“You know, they’ve got to own up to it. They cannot just wash their hands and walk away. That is so irresponsible of the territorial government.”

As of Friday, Premier Cochrane and her cabinet had not yet responded to the discussion paper.