Tłı̨chǫ celebrate 15 years of self-governance

Tłı̨chǫ celebrated 15 years of its government's existence this week. The outdoor gathering in Behchokǫ̀, N.W.T., was scaled down due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In August 2005, the Tłı̨chǫ Land Claims and Self-Government Agreement came into effect

The six-man canoe race ended in a tight finish along the shore. (John Van Dusen/CBC)

People gathered in Behchokǫ̀, N.W.T., this week to celebrate 15 years of the Tłı̨chǫ Government's existence — but celebrations looked a little different this year due to the pandemic.

Rosa Mantla said she decided to hop on a canoe and join the younger generation during this year's Tłı̨chǫ Day celebrations.

"It's been so many years I've [ not participated] in the canoe race. So all of a sudden, I just thought it would be nice to join," said 68-year-old Mantla. It was physically tough, she added.

"At least we came second," Mantla said, chuckling.

Mantla said she remembers Tłı̨chǫ Day celebrations from more than 10 years ago. The stark difference was that back then, the community had many elders.

"It was so many elders when we had canoe races ... We had all those elders sitting on the rocks, standing. There was so much sharing and joking," she said. 

"And now, it's a younger generation that are enjoying their day."

The winners of the six-woman canoe race paddling on a rainy Tłı̨chǫ Day in Behchokǫ̀ on Tuesday. (John Van Dusen/CBC)

Mantla said despite the fun and celebrations, she wanted people to remember the elders who gathered around a table to help make self-government happen for her people. On Aug. 4, 2005, the Tłı̨chǫ Land Claims and Self-Government Agreement came into effect, covering communities of Behchokǫ̀, Whatì, Gamètì and Wekweètì.

"We should be proud of how they have worked hard for us, especially for the future generation," said Mantla. 

"Even the younger people ... said [Tuesday] it was nice when we had our elders. So even them, they remember."

'Now, it's a younger generation that are enjoying their day,' says Mantla, who recalled many elders taking part in Tłı̨chǫ Day celebrations years ago. (John Van Dusen/CBC)

Chief dreams about 15 years ahead

Behchokǫ̀ Chief Clifford Daniels said after missing out on Canada Day and National Indigenous Peoples Day this year, the community wanted a way to mark the occasion.

"We figured for our day, we should do something," he said.

In another 15 years, maybe Tłı̨chǫ Government has its own legislative building.- Chief Clifford Daniels

The scaled-down celebrations from Sunday to Tuesday meant the traditional handgames tournament was held without spectators. There was a fishing derby, talent show and traditional clothes contest, among other outdoor events. People were reminded to keep their physical distance.

Daniels said the gathering was much anticipated, because earlier COVID-19 public health restrictions banned large gatherings altogether.

"Well, jeez, it's way overdue," said Daniels. "We need some type of gathering just to get us together ... We're just trying to keep people busy during this craziness."

People gathered this week to celebrate 15 years of the Tłı̨chǫ Government's existence. (John Van Dusen/CBC)

Reflecting on the past 15 years, and the next 15, Daniels said he's looking forward to how Tłı̨chǫ Government will further take control of its own economy and become self-sufficient.

"In another 15 years, maybe Tłı̨chǫ Government has its own legislative building, the communities might be better settled, maybe housing is resolved within our region," he said. 

"We're growing. We're slowly developing ourselves. Fifteen years ahead is something to really look forward to. It's exciting."

Crowds were much smaller at this year's celebrations in Behchokǫ̀. (John Van Dusen/CBC)

Written by Priscilla Hwang based on interviews by John Van Dusen