Tlicho community gathers at Whitebeach Point for cultural celebration

'At Lutselk'e, they go to Lady of the Falls. The Whati people, they go around the lake and have an annual event ... for us in Behchoko, we don't really have a place.'

Whitebeach Point difficult to access; Tlicho gov't wants to give opportunity for 'people to get out there'

The annual gathering at Whitebeach Point, shown here in 2013, will start with a feeding of the fire ceremony on Aug. 1. (Christy Climenhaga/CBC)

A Tlicho community gathering at Whitebeach Point is celebrating Tlicho culture by helping the community connect to the land. 

Other communities have on-the-land camps where people gather to share traditional meals, stories, and teachings, said Tammy Steinwand-Deschambeault, director of the Tlicho government's department of culture and lands protection.

"At Lutsel K'e, they go to the Lady of the Falls. The Whati people, they go around the lake and have an annual event," she said. "For us in Behchoko, we don't really have a place."

Whitebeach Point is remote, roughly 50 kilometres west of Yellowknife on the North Arm of Great Slave Lake.

Steinwand-Deschambeault said many people cannot access the site, so the Tlicho government decided to "give that opportunity for people to get out there — including the elders."

A celebration of the land

A map shows the location of Whitebeach Point, 50 kilometres west of Yellowknife. (Google)

This is the second annual gathering at Whitebeach Point. The Tlicho government began this project last year as a way to celebrate the importance of the land and Tlicho culture, according to Grand Chief George Mackenzie.

The gathering kicked off with a feeding the fire ceremony on Aug. 1. 

"The ceremony is to bless the grounds, bless the water, and remember all the past elders that used the land in Whitebeach Point," said Mackenzie.

Over the next two weeks, members of the Tlicho community will take planes and motorboats from Frank Channel near Behchoko to Whitebeach Point.

Once at the site, people can go duck hunting, check fish nets, hunt moose, or pick berries. At the camp, people can play volleyball, horseshoes, and visit with one another.

It's "a time to reflect and share stories, and just be with each other," said Steinwand-Deschambeault.

Whitebeach Point was always used by the Tlicho people for camping, fishing, and hunting. Some of the elders out on the land this year were raised in the area, according to Steinwand-Deschambeault.

Organizers say the gathering is meant to give Tlicho people the opportunity to connect with the land. (Christy Climenhaga/CBC)

Sought-after land

Whitebeach Point has been a place of contention between the Tlicho government and mining companies in the past. In 2015, Husky Oil withdrew its plans to drill the sands of Whitebeach Point to explore its potential for use in fracking.

In 2017, the project was back on after Explor signed an agreement with Husky Oil to explore 29 claims. Explor stated it had no interest in affecting the Whitebeach area in any way, though tensions remained between the company and the Tlicho government as they pursued other projects around the N.W.T.

Allan Chatenay, the president of Explor, said Whitebeach Point is a special place.

"As a Canadian, and as a human being, we need to leave that the way it is," he said.

"I think continuing to use that location, the land, to be out there — it's fantastic."

Steinwand-Deschambeault emphasized the gathering is separate from past tensions with mining companies over the same area.

"That's not what this is about," she said.