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

Regions: South Slave Region

Tags: social sciences, traditional knowledge, land use

Principal Investigator: Grimwood, Bryan S.R. (3)
Licence Number: 15865
Organization: University of Waterloo
Licenced Year(s): 2016 2015 2014
Issued: Apr 25, 2016
Project Team: Lauren King (Collaborator, Lutsel K'e Wildlife), Cameron Baldasarra (Research assistant , McMaster University)

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 has been to work collaboratively with the Lutsel K’e Dene First Nation to reveal and restore Denesoline relationships to the Thelon River watershed. The study has involved 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;
3. To engage in a knowledge exchange land camp where research materials will be interpreted and plans for future collaborative research will be made.

This study’s methodology is oriented as research that can help ‘being a Dene on the land’, a process that emerged from a previous research planning workshop. In this approach, research is valued when it involves collaboration, learning together, community review and reporting, respect, local protocols and ownership, on-the-land observations (‘being there’), and benefits to the community. These values mirror the principles of collaborative, community-based, and participatory research, approaches that Bryan Grimwood has used in work with other northern communities.

The broader study includes three research modules involving participants from Lutsel K’e. These include interviews, community workshops, and a knowledge exchange land camp. These modules contribute in different ways to achieving the study objectives and the research priorities identified at the research planning workshop.

1. Interviews
Interviews used in this study are 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. The first set documents Denesoline knowledge and stories about the Thelon River. Twenty-two Lutsel K’e Dene will be recruited as participants. Participants 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 documented Denesoline perspectives on behaviours and best practices of visitors/tourists to the Thelon River. A total of 12 Lutse 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, participants were identified by the Lutsel K’e Research Coordinator (LRC) 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 be displayed at strategic locations around the community (e.g., community hall, Co-op, Council Office). Interviews will last 60 – 90 minutes, will be audio recorded (but only with participant permission), and will be carried out by the LRC and graduate student research assistants.

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

A total of three workshops are anticipated: one with the Wildlife Land and Environment Committee (WLEC), and two with a combination of elder and youth representatives. 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 3-day knowledge exchange land camp, at Whitefish Lake (62° 37’ 53” N, 106° 56’ 01”W), one of the Thelon’s headwater lakes (Artillery Lake has been identified as a suitable alternative location). 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 (i.e., Bryan Grimwood, LRC, and the Research Assistant). 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.


Results of this study will continue to 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 are ongoing, while activities designed for other Thelon stakeholders and academia will begin later in 2016 and continue beyond the funding period.

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. A final research report that summarizes project outcomes and invites stakeholder involvement in future related research will also be prepared. The nature of reporting will continue to evolve in dialogue with the Lutsel K’e WLEC.

In collaboration with LKDFN research partners, research has been presented at national and international academic conferences and in academic journal articles. Research outcomes are also being integrated into undergraduate and graduate teaching modules at the University of Waterloo.






The fieldwork for this study will be conducted from April 25, 2016 to December 31, 2016.