Follow Dene law to help NWT overcome Covid-19, Elders say

Dene Elders on Thursday urged unity and careful adherence to Dene law as they expressed deep concern for Denendeh amid the NWT’s growing Covid-19 outbreak.

Yellowknife, which has more than 70 active cases, is now under measures limiting gathering sizes. Behchokǫ̀, where 11 confirmed or probable cases were announced late on Wednesday, entered containment on Thursday morning.

Each community will spend at least two weeks under stricter public health measures as the territory struggles to gain control over a month-long outbreak that, driven by the Delta variant, has trebled the NWT’s case count.


In a Thursday news release, the Dene Nation said a committee of Elders urged residents to use Dene values and principles “to strengthen our commitment to each other” in the face of Covid-19.

A statement from the Elders’ group asked residents to “show unity amongst ourselves.” The group called on people to take care of the elderly and protect children, or head onto the land for fall camps as a means of distancing themselves from the virus.

“Those who know Dene Law have love in their hearts,” Gordon Yakeleya, a Sahtu Elder, was quoted as saying.

“We are happy people, we need to go back to the Traditional Way; this is the right path. Guide and educate the children in Dene Law to give them a better future.”

Jonas Sangris, an Akaitcho Elder, was quoted as saying Covid-19 had “slowed everything down.”


“It is like we are being punished for something. We have our own Dene Law, but few are practising it. The young are not following Dene Law. All we can do is pray,” Sangris said.

“We are all very concerned … This virus is airborne. It knows no boundaries and is very contagious,” said Rita Cli, a Dehcho Elder. “People need to be cleaner by not spitting everywhere.”

Cli, Yakeleya, and Gwich’in Elder Mary Teya all said Dene Elders had long predicted such a sickness would come.

“We encourage one another to take care, to self-isolate, stay home, use masks, to stay healthy, and safely follow restrictions,” said Teya. “Help the vulnerable, pray, take care of each other.”


Norman Yakeleya, who remains the Dene National Chief following the suspension of an election scheduled for this month, said people in the NWT had to work together and “change with the times.”

“Covid-19 is an opportunity to remind us who we are as Dene,” said Yakeleya in a statement. “To remind us of who we are and what we need to do. Going back to the land is the safest place for us.”

The Dene Nation’s statement concluded: “The best defence is vaccination and medicines from the land. Do what Kakisa has done by achieving a 100-percent vaccine rate. We are stronger together.”