Picturing the Thelon River: Restor(y)ing Denesoline relations en route to the headwaters

Regions: South Slave Region

Tags: social sciences, knowledge transfer, traditional knowledge, land use

Principal Investigator: Grimwood, Bryan S.R. (3)
Licence Number: 15437
Organization: University of Waterloo
Licenced Year(s): 2016 2015 2014
Issued: Mar 14, 2014
Project Team: Ally Holmes (Graduate Student Research Assistant, University of Waterloo), Lauren King (Graduate Student Research Assistant, University of Waterloo), Lutsel K'e Research Coordinator (Community liaison and Research Assistant, Lutsel K'e Dene First Nation), Gita Ljubicic (Co-Investigator, Carleton University), Mike Tollis (Community Liaison, LKDFN Wildlife, Land, and Environment Committee)

Objective(s): To work collaboratively with the Lutsel K’e Dene First Nation to reveal and restore Denesoline relationships to the Thelon River watershed.

Project Description: The purpose of this research is to work collaboratively with the Lutsel K’e Dene First Nation to reveal and restore Denesoline relationships to the Thelon River watershed. The study involves three objectives: 1) to foster and celebrate Denesoline cultural livelihoods by recording, experiencing, and exchanging local and traditional knowledge associated with the Thelon; 2) to synthesize, analyze, and interpret Thelon related policies, archives, and media productions for meaningful use within the community context of Lutsel K’e; and, 3) to engage in a knowledge exchange land camp where research materials will be interpreted and plans for future collaborative research will be made.

The study will include three research modules involving participants from Lutsel K’e. These modules will contribute in different ways to achieving the study objectives and the research priorities identified at the December 2013 research planning workshop.

1. Interviews
The interviews used in this study will be focused life-story interviews. The goal of this interview method is to enable each participant to tell his or her story in relation to the Thelon River, and the connections he or she has with other people and the environment. It is a type of interview that encourages a conversational and story-telling style where the participant sets the pace and the interviewer listens, clarifies, probes, and raises topics which need to be covered in the interview that have not arisen spontaneously in the course of the conversation.

Two sets of interviews involving different participants will take place between April and June 2014. The first set will document Denesoline knowledge and stories about the Thelon River. Between 20 and 30 Lutsel K’e Dene will be recruited as participants. Participants may include elders, land users, or youth with stories to tell about the Thelon based on their direct experience or their knowledge passed down to them by ancestors. The second set of interviews will document Denesoline perspectives on behaviors and best practices of visitors/tourists to the Thelon River. Between 10 - 15 Lutsel K’e Dene First Nation (LKDFN) representatives involved in land use planning, management, and decision-making will be recruited as participants. For both sets of interviews, potential participants will be identified by the Lutsel K’e Research Coordinator (LRC) and/or the Wildlife Land and Environment Committee (WLEC), and subsequently contacted by telephone by a member of the research team and invited to participate. Information and recruitment posters with research team contact information will also be displayed at strategic locations around the community (e.g., community hall, Co-op, Council Office). Interviews will last 60 – 90 minutes, be audio recorded (but only with participant permission), and be carried out by the LRC and a Waterloo graduate student.

2. Community Workshops
The community workshops will be interactive and participatory events that emphasize knowledge exchange and celebration. Information derived from the interviews will be shared with workshop participants and used to prompt additional discussion, stories, or talking circles relating to the Thelon River. Participants will also be invited to analyze and/or interpret the knowledge derived from the interviews. Workshops will, therefore, be a forum for reporting results and sharing the authority of interpreting research.

A total of three workshops are anticipated: one with the WLEC, and two with a combination of elder and youth representatives. These will occur in May or June 2014 and be facilitated by the LRC and a Waterloo graduate student. Each workshop will last 90 – 120 minutes. Potential elder and youth participants will be identified by the LRC and subsequently contacted by telephone by a member of the research team and invited to participate.

3. Knowledge Exchange Land Camp
The third research module involving Lutsel K’e participants is a six-day knowledge exchange land camp, at Whitefish Lake (62° 37’ 53” N, 106° 56’ 01” W), one of the Thelon’s headwater lakes. The research land camp was proposed by the WLEC as an opportunity for Dene youth to directly experience local and traditional knowledge under the guidance of Dene land users and be involved in research activities. To the WLEC, the land camp is ideal for learning about Denesoline relationships to the Thelon, and for communicating knowledge between generations and across cultures.

The proposed camp will involve six to eight participants—including youth and land users from Lutsel K’e, and members of the research team. The group will travel Denesoline trails to Whitefish Lake via snowmobile, carrying food, camping equipment, and other supplies upon towed sleds. Ethnographic methods of participant observation, photography, film, and participant mapping will be used to document Denesoline land use and knowledge experienced during the land camp. The camp will also be a base for sharing and co-interpreting knowledge derived from the interviews and community workshops in Lutsel K’e, and from previous Thelon River research with Inuit and tourists. Knowledge will also be integrated into action items for designing future collaborative research that brings together Dene and Inuit to celebrate and maintain distinctive cultural livelihoods within the Thelon watershed.

The research will build on Denesoline traditions of use and occupancy of the Thelon watershed. Documenting Denesoline knowledge will enhance local understandings of, and relationships to, this sacred place in contexts of Arctic change. The headwaters land camp planned will add an experiential dimension to the research whereby Denesoline land users and youth may exchange knowledge and practice cultural skills. According to the WLEC, benefits associated with documenting and experiencing this knowledge include: greater intergenerational and intercultural awareness of Dene territory and livelihoods; improved protection of traditional lands; culturally meaningful land use alternatives to resource extraction; and tourism service opportunities. These outcomes will enhance understanding of the Thelon as Denesoline homeland, prompting further awareness that the Canadian north is much more than a resource frontier.

Results of this study will be communicated to diverse audiences based on respective interests and with the permission of LKDFN research partners. Review and reporting activities within Lutsel K’e will be ongoing, while activities designed for other Thelon stakeholders and academia will begin in 2015 and continue beyond the funding period.

Within Lutsel K’e: The study prioritizes community partnerships to facilitate knowledge co-creation and use. Research will be communicated through: community workshops in which knowledge derived from research activities is shared and co-interpreted; reports following each research visit; a headwaters land camp for knowledge exchange and integration into future research planning; a community celebration of stories, photographs, and video following the headwaters land camp; a research reporting visit by the Applicant in August 2015.

Thelon Stakeholders: In collaboration with LKDFN research partners, research may be made accessible to a broader community of Thelon stakeholders, including: other Indigenous inhabitants, territorial and federal government agencies, co-management boards, environmental NGO’s, tourism operators, and tourists. Reporting activities could include developing a website and final research report that summarize project outcomes and invite stakeholder involvement in future related research. The nature of this reporting will be determined in April 2014.

Academia: In collaboration with LKDFN research partners, research will be presented at national and international academic conferences and in academic journal articles. Research outcomes may also be integrated into undergraduate and graduate teaching modules at the University of Waterloo and Carleton University.


The fieldwork for this study will be conducted from April 9, 2014 to June 30, 2014.