A new program in Łútsël K’é is training local residents to build furniture and providing long-lasting employment opportunities, the community’s tourism development manager says.
The Łútsël K’é Dene First Nation (LKDFN) launched its furniture program after receiving $114,000 through Indigenous Skill and Employment Training Strategies, a federal fund partly administered by the Native Women’s Association of Canada.
An instructor will be brought up from Ontario in the fall to show a group of hired community members how to build furniture using local wood.
“The idea started with getting locally made log furniture in the lodge,” said Ray Griffith, LKDFN’s tourism development manager, referring to the First Nation’s Frontier Lodge tourism property on the edge of the Thaidene Nëné park.
“Then we realized that if we have a training program to do that, we’ll have skilled people,” Griffith said, “and there’s certainly a market for furniture here in the community.”
Ten Łútsël K’é residents have been employed to collect wood and take the training.
Approximately two cords of birch and 100 pine logs were harvested from surrounding forests in early March. The wood will be milled in May and stacked to dry until September, when the course is set to take place.
The new builders’ first task will be to make furniture for Frontier Lodge.
However, Griffith added, they will also have the opportunity to sell their goods to tourists – envisioned by LKDFN as packaged pieces customers would assemble themselves at home – and within Łútsël K’é itself.
“It’s extremely expensive to fly in couches, as you can imagine,” he explained of the local market. “A couch costs around $1,500 to get it in from Yellowknife in terms of freight.
“We’re really aspiring to start another local business – which will be a very small business, I expect, but nevertheless a business – that could potentially have ongoing employment in a new area.”
Building the local economy
Since the Thaidene Nëné Indigenous Protected Area was signed into existence in August 2019, LKDFN has been working to grow the community’s tourism sector.
That year, the First Nation purchased Frontier Lodge – a commercial fishing lodge that had been in operation for 60 years – with the intent of transforming it into a hub for tourism and cultural activities. (More recently, the lodge has hit a licensing snag in what the First Nation calls a GNWT “bureaucratic trap.”)
LKDFN started renovating the lodge last summer with funds from federal agency CanNor, the GNWT’s Department of Industry, Tourism, and Investment, and its own equity fund.
That work is expected to be complete by June this year, in time for the summer staycation season.
An online store dedicated to clothing, jewellery, tools, and artwork made in Łútsël K’é – called Caribou People Creations – was launched last November.
Griffith said the goal is for the tourism and cultural sectors to work together.
“What the lodge and Thaidene Nëné offer … is not just for people to come and see the land,” he said.
“It’s the land and the people and the history, and how people are living. All of that is the package that we’re promoting internationally for tourists.”