The NWT On The Land Collaborative is a collective of partners from government, industry, philanthropy, and beyond, working together to support land-based programs and projects in the NWT. Each of these partner organizations has a representative that participates in quarterly meetings and annual funding decisions. This is the twelfth in a series of profiles of the people and organizations that make the Collaborative possible. You can read the other profiles here.
Tracey Williams arrived to our meeting with a flat square mason jar labelled, “Yellowknife Homegrown Herbal.” “A little goes a long way,” she remarked about the tea, with a smile and her signature laugh. It is just like Tracey to share a little something from her garden. Anyone who has spent time with the animated expat knows she is passionate about food and food security, but especially food security in Indigenous communities. Food, she believes, “is a lifeline to the land, culture, and healing,” a means through which Indigenous communities can “regain what has been lost to the traumas of the colonization process.”
In addition to being an avid gardener and advocate, Tracey is the new face of TNC Canada in the territory; she was hired as the Northern Conservation Lead in late February. TNC Canada (not to be confused with the Nature Conservancy of Canada, which is a separate though kindred organization) is the Canadian affiliate of the world’s largest conservation organization, The Nature Conservancy. TNC Canada, as Tracey explains, is much more than a conservation organization, however: “We are interested in supporting sustainable communities, where people and nature are connected, and we are building the future around that connection.”
TNC Canada has had a presence in the North for almost a decade. Initially, the organization provided technical support to the NWT Protected Areas Strategy, a community-based approach to conservation planning aimed at creating a network of protected areas across the territory. Much of TNC Canada’s focus in the intervening years has centred on supporting Łutsël K’é Dene First Nation in the creation of the Thaidene Nëné National Park Reserve (Thaidene Nëné means “land of our ancestors” in Dënesųłiné). TNC Canada has also provided support to the community’s Ni Hat’ni Dene program. Ni Hati’ni, which means “watchers of the land,” is an Indigenous Guardian program modelled on the Haida Watchmen. Tracey’s task in the coming weeks and months will be to expand TNC Canada’s role in the territory.
TNC Canada has been involved with the Collaborative since the early days. Tracey’s predecessor attended the initial meetings in 2014 and TNC Canada was one of the first organizations to sign on as a funding partner. Like other partners, TNC Canada was attracted to the Collaborative because it meets an important need in the territory. As Tracey notes, “On the land programming, in all of the communities in the Northwest Territories, is something everyone wants to be doing. It’s something that everyone wants to be happening in their communities.” And so it made sense for TNC Canada to get involved with an initiative committed to removing barriers to spending time on the land.
TNC Canada’s support for land-based programming and their participation in the Collaborative was one of the things that drew Tracey to the organization: “Since moving to the NWT 15 years ago, everything I’ve done has had an on the land focus. That’s been my lens. I really like the fact that TNC Canada is not just supporting a land trust initiative, they want to support people, their place in nature, and their connection to the land.” Tracey believes strongly that on the land programs are “vital to defining a pathway to sustainability for the future of the Northwest Territories.”
Tracey, who hails from the Chicago area, first came north to paddle. (She and her partner, Steve, have at various points travelled the Back, Kazan, Coppermine, and Thelon Rivers.) It wasn’t long before Tracey made the move permanently, relocating from Sante Fe, New Mexico, where she had been working in land restoration and watershed management, to Łutsël K’é, where she took a job coordinating a traditional knowledge project on East Arm fisheries. In the ensuing twelve years, Tracey became an important part of the community fabric, involved in everything from the community garden and school board to environmental assessment interventions and community radio. In 2013, Tracey, Steve, and their three kids relocated to Yellowknife.
It was while living in Łutsël K’e that Tracey began her apprenticeship as a moosehide tanner under the tutelage of a trusted and respected local Elder, whom Tracey is now fortunate to call a friend: “I started out as her lackey. I was there to carry water or start fires or attend to the smokehouse, whatever needed to be done. Over time I realized I really liked hide tanning.” With the arrival of twins in 2011, Tracey’s time for tanning dramatically decreased. She makes a point, however, of returning to Łutsël K’é every June for a hide tanning camp to work on one of her in-progress hides. (Side note: the Łutsël K’é Women’s Group’s Annual Hide Tanning Camp is one of 35 grant recipients for 2017).
Other members of the Collaborative see the positive outcomes of land-based programming in terms of the wellbeing of participants or of the health of the land. Tracey brings a new perspective to the table: “Dene people, Inuit people, Indigenous people all have foodways.” Tracey recognizes the importance of those foodways to Indigenous identity, wellbeing, and sovereignty, hence why she thinks supporting the continuance of those foodways through the Collaborative is so important. As with other outcomes, food security doesn’t need to be an explicit objective of land-based programs to support Indigenous foodways and food sovereignty: “If you have an on the land project, inevitably, you will have a duck, a goose, a caribou head, a moose, a trout, whatever is in season, over the fire. You may go berry picking. In this way, on the land programming naturally supports food security regardless of whether or not we acknowledge it.”
The NWT On The Land Collaborative depends on partners like TNC Canada to support land-based initiatives in the NWT. If your organization is interested in becoming a partner, please contact Steve Ellis (firstname.lastname@example.org).