In the Community

Traditional Economy in the Sahtu

Hunting, fishing, and gathering of country food as well as trapping and the production of clothing, arts and crafts are skills that have developed over generations and are the backbone of the Traditional Economy. Not only critical to the social and cultural fabric of NWT communities, these skills have allowed people in the North to live with the land for thousands of years. Today, the rising costs of gas and other commodities in remote communities, not to mention the high cost of equipment and supplies needed to participate in these traditional activities, means that access to money is required to sustain communities. As a result, the wage-based economy is having increased influence within NWT communities as people, particularly youth who are not as active in the Traditional Economy, look for jobs to earn money. For some, the Traditional Economy and the wage-based economy are complementary. People use the money gained through employment to support their traditional activities in what is commonly referred to as the Mixed Economy. However there is a delicate balance between the Traditional Economy and the wage-based economy. Those who work regularly have little time left to participate in traditional activities and, along with an already declining participation in these activities, it is leading to the loss of cultural identity for many aboriginal people of the North. Conversely, those who participate solely in the Traditional Economy often struggle to afford many necessities of life in these communities.

Deborah Simmons, Executive Director of the Sahtu Renewable Resource Board (SRRB), along with Tee Lim of the Pembina Institute and Betty Harnum, are leading a two-year project called “The Best of Both Worlds” for the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency and the territorial Ministry of Industry, Tourism and Investment. This project aims to promote the Traditional Economy and traditional activities by exploring opportunities to make them more economically feasible and accessibly, while encouraging participation in employment. Essentially, the project wants to promote a healthy Mixed Economy for the Sahtu region, where people get the best of both worlds. Working through the GNWT-WLU Partnership, Dr. Alison Blay-Palmer and graduate student, Andrew Spring, were invited to form a collaboration with Simmons and support the project’s background work and report writing.

On February 11-13, 2014, a workshop was held at the Old Mission building in Deline as part of this project. It brought together youth and elders from each of the five Sahtu communities. The purpose of the workshop was to talk to community members about their thoughts and experiences in the Traditional Economy, and what they thought were barriers to participating in both traditional and employment sectors.

It is hoped that in the coming year of this project, communities will discuss ways to help transfer the traditional skills to the next generation and look for opportunities to support younger hunters and trappers in the Sahtu.

For Blay-Palmer and Spring, it has been a great learning experience. This new partnership with the team from the Sahtu will hopefully expand in the coming months to include some food security work which will become the basis of Spring’s doctoral thesis.

For more information on the Workshop: 2013-014 NewsNorth Traditional Economy 14-02-10