North·Photos

'This is our day to be who we are': Tulita's Treaty Day celebrations in photos

Hundreds of people from across the territory descended on Tulita, N.W.T., to mark 100 years of Treaty 11. "It means a lot because with COVID, people haven't been able to come together for a while," said one participant.

Gathering in Tulita, N.W.T. marked 100 years since Treaty 11 was signed

Hundreds of people from across the territory descended on Tulita, N.W.T., to mark 100 years of Treaty 11. 'It means a lot because with COVID, people haven't been able to come together for a while,' said one volunteer.   (Anna Desmarais/CBC)

Hundreds of people from across the territory descended on Tulita, N.W.T., to mark 100 years of Treaty 11 on Thursday.

The community of approximately 500 people hasn't had a gathering of this size "in a long time," according to Shayla Kunkel, 18, one of the volunteers at Treaty Day. 

It's fitting, she said, because Tulita signifies "where the two rivers meet." 

"It's been a place to come together for many generations," Kunkel said. 

"It means a lot because with COVID, people haven't been able to come together for a while." 

'This is our day to be who we are,' said volunteer Shayla Kunkel, 18. (Anna Desmarais/CBC)

Canada's Treaty 11 party spent the summer of 1921 going down the Mackenzie River to eight communities with a pre-written treaty in hand. It was the discovery of oil here, in what was once Fort Norman, that piqued Canada's interest in the territory. 

Moosehide boat mishap 

The ceremonies were supposed to start with the grand entrance of a moosehide boat. In the past, people here would use these boats for transportation. 

It was a journey in the making for the last year, according to Leon Andrew, one of the crew members. 

Leon Andrew was one of the crew members on the moosehide boat. 'There was a sense of joy, every little piece that came together, they cheered,' he said. (Anna Desmarais/CBC)

"It brings life to the community, of who we are," Andrew said. "There was a sense of joy, every little piece that came together, they cheered." 

Two weeks ago, a team of elders and young people left Tulita to go on the land to build the boat from scratch, from a camp along the Keele River. 

They made the boat with ten moose hides, with the goal of boating back to town in time to open up the ceremonies. 

A group of elders and youth journeyed in the boat, made with 10 moose hides. (Anna Desmarais/CBC)

The boat's rim broke on the way back, resulting in an hours-long detour to get it fixed. 

Once they got back on the water, they met stormy conditions, forcing the crew to come back in the early hours of the morning, long before they were supposed to. 

Watch elders and youth launch the moosehide boat on the Keele River in this video by Jessie Yakeleya:

Moosehide boat journey begins in the N.W.T.'s Sahtu region

2 months ago
1:27
A team of Sahtu Dene elders and youth carry a handmade moosehide boat to the bank of the Keele River in preparation for a journey to Tulita, N.W.T., to mark the 100th anniversary of Treaty 11. 1:27

Andrew said that even though they didn't get the entrance they wanted, having the moosehide boat in town is important, to show young people their culture. 

"Young people are potential guardians of the land," Andrew said. "The journey represents what our elders have done, they've never wavered from the weakness of not doing anything in the bush." 

The arbour in Tulita, where people gathered ahead of the celebrations. (Anna Desmarais/CBC)
Morris Neyelle was moved to see the moosehide boat, but not sure that Treaty 11 is something that should be celebrated. (Anna Desmarais/CBC)

Seeing the moosehide boat come on to shore warmed Morris Neyelle's heart. 

The elder, who's from Deline, said it reminds him of the trips his elders used to take down the mouth of the Mackenzie River. 

For the rest of the day, relatives waited along the shores of the river bank for hours to see their family members come in on modern boats. 

People in Tulita wait for guests to arrive for the hamlet's Treaty 11 celebrations. (Anna Desmarais/CBC)
People greeted one another on shore. (Anna Desmarais/CBC)

As they came to shore, guns went off in the air to welcome them.

People ran down Tulita's Blueberry Hill to greet their relatives with a big hug, after not seeing them for so long. 

'Be proud of who you are' 

Relatives came up from the boats to the arbour, to hear the powerful words of local leadership. 

Paul Andrew, the former chief of Tulita, said this day is a celebration of their ancestors thinking about their well-being, 100 years ago. 

"They were trying to make relationships with the Queen and England 100 years ago because they were thinking about us now," he said. "That's what we're celebrating."

Paul Andrew, a former chief of Tulita, called it a day of celebration. (Anna Desmarais/CBC)

Then the party started, with a long list of traditional games, like ring throwing, log sawing and jigging competitions that went on into the early hours of the morning. 

Tulita at 1 a.m. Events were still underway. (Anna Desmarais/CBC)

Neyelle said he didn't think the celebrations were "appropriate" because there's still a lot of work that his people need to do to move away from the treaty. 

"When I heard there was a celebration here, I said 'What are we celebrating?'" he said. 

But for Kunkel, she believes it's a day for everyone to appreciate their culture. 

"This is your land. Be proud of who you are," she said. "This is our day to be who we are." 

Tulita's celebrations continue this weekend with a hand games tournament. Twenty-five teams are competing from across the territory for a grand prize of $30,000. 

Canoes docked at Tulita, N.W.T. (Anna Desmarais/CBC)
A canoe arrives on the Mackenzie River near Tulita, N.W.T. (Anna Desmarais/CBC)
Tulita, N.W.T. in late July, 2021. (Anna Desmarais/CBC)

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