Telling a Story of Change the Dene Way: Indicators for Monitoring in Diamond Impacted Communities




The Yellowknives Dene First Nation is stepping up to the plate to measure change in the Dene way. This article presents selected perspectives from a community meeting of 25 leaders, organizers, and staff of the Yellowknives Dene First Nation that was held to discuss what indicators should be used to develop a baseline picture of social change and how to collect this information. The Yellowknives are running a pilot project, one that will test methods and community-based indicators, in advance of all the other diamond mine impacted communities in the Northwest Territories. The pilot project is being done by a Committee (the authors of this report) as well as a social scientist (also an author). The social scientist researcher serves as a technical advisor, helping to design the survey and interview instruments, and to collect, manage, and interpret the data. The Yellowknives Dene First Nation members hold ownership of the information, guide project design, implementation, data analysis, and reporting. This paper reviews how we designed the research project.


The Yellowknives Dene First Nation is sure that their communities have changed since the opening of Canada’s first two diamond mines in the North. They live inside and just on the outskirts of the Territorial capital of Yellowknife, and more than 65 of their 450 members work at the two diamond mines that operate in the region. They know full well that the mines have affected them, but the challenge lies in creating appropriate indicators of impact.

Our forefathers were thinking about us when they were
negotiating treaty, they were thinking about us when
they said, as long as the rivers flow. Now we have to think
about our children. Will they be able to live here when
the population is 50000 in YK? Will they be able to hunt?
Treaty Negotiator Fred Sangris

The Yellowknives Dene First Nation include roughly 1,000 people, living in N’Dilo, a stand-alone community adjacent to Yellowknife and Dettah, which is only seven kilometres from the capital. Also, about a third of the membership live in Yellowknife itself. The community members speak predominantly the Weledeh dialect of Dogrib and Chipewyan. Families continue to live from the land, as indicated by the percentage of people reporting hunting, fishing, and trapping activities — 43% in Dettah — along with those who report eating country food — 67.2% in Dettah (Bureau of Statistics, 2003). The Yellowknives Dene signed Treaty 8 in 1900, and leaders continue to negotiate for Treaty Entitlement with the federal government. They are also known as the Akaitcho, named for the fearsome warrior of the group who traded with Samuel Hearne.

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