Lutsel K'e Dene say N.W.T. gov't could destroy long-sought lodge business

Chief Darryl Marlowe says the Łutsel K’e Dene First Nation is now trapped in a "bureaucratic mess of the GNWT’s own creation."

NWT Tourism says new business license rule potentially ruinous, has to go

The Frontier Fishing Lodge in Łutsel K'e currently operates from June to August, but community members are hoping to find uses year-round. (Submitted by Frontier Fishing Lodge)

The Łutsel K'e Dene First Nation says a policy shift regulating remote lodges could destroy its plans for the Frontier Lodge, an integral part of its sustainable Indigenous-led tourism plans. 

The First Nation's chief is supported by the territory's key tourism marketing agency, which wrote to Premier Caroline Cochrane to argue the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs (MACA) should not be licensing tour operators.

The department would not issue a business license and revoked occupancy permits issued to the Frontier Lodge while it reviews requirements for licensing remote lodges, states a May 27 news release from the First Nation.

"I can't even begin to understand the thinking behind this decision," wrote Łutsel K'e Dene First Nation Chief Darryl Marlowe.

 The department said it did not deny the First Nation a licence, but will offer resources to Frontier and other lodges to ensure they can pass a future inspection, which are a condition of those business licences.

But Marlowe said his First Nation is now trapped in a "bureaucratic mess of the GNWT's [Government of the Northwest Territories'] own creation" and that it took three months to learn MACA would take over licensing duties from the Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment without all the policies in place."

Łutsel K'e Dene First Nation Chief Darryl Marlowe said his First Nation is now trapped in a 'bureaucratic mess of the GNWT’s own creation.' (Gabriela Panza-Beltrandi/CBC)

"Instead of working to support our vision, it seems like MACA is intent on shutting down a successful tourism business by refusing to grant a new licence," wrote Marlowe in a news release.

"The only thing that has changed in terms of the operation is that the lodge is now owned by an Indigenous community, rather than by non-residents of the N.W.T." 

Łutsel K'e Dene First Nation bought the Frontier fishing lodge from its Albertan owners in 2019, as part of their vision for tourism at the newly created Thaidene Nëné National Park Reserve. 

The First Nation told the government to exempt the Frontier Lodge from the business licence requirement until the it resolves its policy issues. The territorial government said there are no exemption provisions in the business license regulations or the Fire Prevention Act. 

In an email, the MACA wrote it recognizes the economic importance of the lodge to Łutselk'e and that safety of residents and visitors to the territory is its highest priority.

The department said it met with the Łutsel K'e Dene First Nation about the work it is doing with remote lodges. It said it never denied Frontier a business license and that it's been working with Łutsel K'e Dene to communicate requirements under the Business Licensing Act, Fire Prevention Act and Liquor Act.

NWT Tourism says MACA shouldn't be issuing business licences

In a May 28 letter to the premier, NWT Tourism chair Harold Grinde said MACA "should not be in the business of licensing remote tourism businesses."

He wrote that a "significant failure" by the government puts Frontier, a long-standing and successful fishing lodge of over 30 years, at risk and that authority over remote tourism lodges should return to the Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment (ITI).

NWT Tourism previously recommended that ITI carry out annual inspections and process applications for any supporting permits for those businesses. It said if MACA took over business licensing, it risked wholesale closures across the remote lodge sector. 

Grinde said the government ignored those recommendations, and that Frontier Lodge's troubles were avoidable. Recovery from COVID-19 demands one policy and one department, he said.

"[Recovery] will never happen if we allow government indifference and bureaucratic inertia to destroy a community's dreams — or to stand in the way of badly needed new investment," he wrote, adding that people will be less likely to invest in remote lodges knowing that it could take a full season and undefined costs to get new permits. 

Grinde said NWT Tourism supports exempting the Frontier Lodge, and all other tour operators, from the MACA business license requirement and for Frontier's permits to be renewed under the same terms set out in the 2019 purchase.