Sahtu Region

Communities of the Sahtu:

Colville Lake

Colville Lake’s traditional Dene name is “Kiahba Mi Tuwe” which means ptarmigan net. Colville Lake is located 745 air km northwest of Yellowknife, NWT. The Colville Lake area was traditionally used and occupied by Sahtu Dene since time immemorial. Excellent hunting, fishing and harvesting of small game still occurs at Colville Lake.

In 1962 a Roman Catholic Mission was started at Colville Lake. Like many other Dene communities, people began to come in off the land to settle in communities like Colville Lake where southern community services were being introduced.

Colville Lake is still considered one of the most traditional communities with an economy largely based on hunting, fishing and trapping but this is changing as oil and gas exploration and tourism are opening up other economic opportunities. In the northern area of the North Slavey Dene, Colville Lake is a gem of a community that is holding onto its traditions in spite of modern encroachment.


Déline is a beautiful community that sits on the shore of Great Bear Lake near the mouth of the Great Bear River. Déline means “where the water flows.” Déline used to be called Fort Franklin but on June 1, 1993 the community changed its name back to its traditional name that reflects it identity and location… “where the water flows.”

Déline is a community of about 550 people. The area around Déline provides excellent fishing and hunting. Dene people have lived and harvested in the area since time immemorial. The community of Déline started from a few log cabins occupied on a seasonal basis, a short distance east of the Hudson's Bay Company Post which was created to support the over-wintering of Sir John Franklin's Second Arctic Land Expedition of 1825-1827. One of the first recorded mentioning of the game of hockey in Canada was recorded in the Franklin diaries during this time. Today, Déline residents have all the amenities of any southern community. People still hunt, trap, fish and travel about on their lands and waters. Many work for oil companies, mining companies, governments, small businesses and themselves. Déline is a precious place with deep community spirit and excellent northern hospitality.

Fort Good Hope

The Dene traditional name of Fort Good Hope is Radili Ko which means “rapids.”
Fort Good Hope is located on a peninsula between Jackfish Creek and the east bank of the Mackenzie River. Fort Good Hope is 805 air km northwest of Yellowknife, and 145 km northwest of Norman Wells.

Fort Good Hope was established in 1805. It is one of the oldest communities in the lower Mackenzie River Valley; however, it was relocated several times until 1839 when the present location was established. Starvation occurred in 1844 due to over harvesting and introduction of foreign diseases. In 1859 Father Grollier, Oblate of Mary Immaculate opened the first Roman Catholic Mission. In 1965 controversial missionary Emile Petitot was stationed in Ft. Good Hope. With help from his colleagues, he is credited with building Our Lady of Good Hope. Our Lady of Good Hope is a masterpiece of art with its beautiful murals that illuminate its interior with life. Ft Good Hope’s economy was based on traditional activities such as hunting, trapping and fishing but since the oilfield at Norman Wells opened in 1931, wage employment opportunities became common. Today Ft. Good Hope’s economy is a mix of traditional and modern activities. People are employed with governments, industry and through entrepreneurial activities. Ft. Good Hope is a beautiful community with incredible potential waiting to be realized.

Norman Wells

Norman Wells is located 80 km northwest of Tulita and 684 km northwest of Yellowknife. Situated on the north bank of the Mackenzie River, Norman Wells is enclosed by the Richardson Mountains to the west and the Franklin Hills to the east.
With a population of 848 (2004 Census) Norman Wells is a community with an economy based on oil. The Dene have always occupied and used the lands and resources around Norman Wells. They called the area, “Le Gohtine” which means “where the oil is,” long before Alexander Mackenzie noted the oil seeping into the Dehcho (Big River) when he paddled by in 1789.

In 1920 a major oil find was made in Le Gohtine. Because of its close proximity to Fort Norman, the place was called Norman Wells. In 1921 Treaty 11 was signed with the Dene and Canada largely because of the immense Norman Wells oil discovery. By 1937 Imperial Oil Ltd. was actively exploring and developing Le Gohtine and two years later a refinery capable of producing aviation fuel was built. World War II was the motivation for the development. The first northern pipeline or Canol Project was quickly constructed between Norman Wells and Whitehorse to supply fuel for the American war effort in the Pacific between 1942 and 1944. The pipeline was never fully used and later mothballed along with American military hardware scattered all along the Canol Trail. In the late 1980s Imperial oil built artificial islands in the Mackenzie River to expand access and production of Canada’s fourth largest single pool of oil. A pipeline was built and 30,000 barrels of oil per day began to flow south as the second pipeline ever build in the NWT began to pay big dividends for IOL. Today Norman Wells is a government center with the added bonus of having an economic base built on the oil field it sits on. Tourism is expanding and Dene continue to harvest their lands and resources in the area. The northern spirit of hospitality and adventure is still alive and engaging in Norman Wells.


Tulita means, “where two rivers meet,” in the Dene language of the Tulita Dene. Tulita is located on the south bank of the Bear River and east shore of the Mackenzie or (Dehcho) River. Just across the Bear River from Tulita stands Bear Rock which is a spiritual place that is held in high respect. Bear Rock holds legendary significance to the Dene. In 1810 the Northwest Trading Company established a trading post on the current site of Tulita and called it Fort Norman. As time progressed the fur trade became the primary economic activity introduced by fur traders.

Tulita Dene still maintained occupancy and use of all their traditional lands and waters. Oil was discovered by Dene long before Alexander Mackenzie paddled down the Dehcho River which was named after him for paddling down it only once in 1789. Mackenzie took notes of the oil seepage at Le Gohtine or “where the oil is” as it was and is known to the Tulita Dene. Later in 1919/1920 oil wells were drilled at Le Gohtine and it became known as Norman Wells because of its close location to Ft. Norman which is Tulita traditional territory. Following this and as per the pattern of most treaty making in Canada where valuable resources were proven to exist, the federal government sought to quickly engage a Treaty with the Dene of the area. On July 21, 1921 Treaty 11 was signed in Ft. Norman. The Treaty’s lawful obligations were never fully honored by the Crown, therefore, a land and resources comprehensive claims process began and an agreement was settled when the Sahtu Dene & Métis Land Claims Settlement Act became federal legislation on June 23, 1994. The Tulita Dene and Métis are now is negotiations with Canada to address self-government.

Today Tulita is an exciting community where excellent prospects for future development in oil and gas, mining and tourism have significant potential. These potential economic activities along with the beautiful traditional and cultural practices of the Tultia citizens will make Tulita a prosperous place to live. The Dene and Métis of Tulita have a rich history, heritage and culture which is carried in the wisdom of the elders and being reinvigorated with every youth that embraces it.

All of the communities of the Sahtu have holistic goals that encompass governance, social, political, economic, environmental and cultural aspects among many others. In essence, these communities can have the authority and thus responsibility for all activities related to their socio-cultural and economic advancement through self-government and self-determining leadership. Each community has its own unique set of challenges and opportunities that are layered in historical experience. The colonization experience especially the Residential School experience has been particularly difficult. Stack onto this the disenfranchisement, economic, social and cultural marginalization experiences and you have significant work to allow the Dene and Métis to recover from these experiences; however, they are working hard at it and with assistance and united focus, they are achieving results, one healthy person at a time. The Dene & Métis of the Sahtu are remarkable people for their ability to sustain their unique cultures and for sharing their lands, resources and waters with others. They epitomize the essence of their ancestor’s desire for “Peace, Friendship and Sharing.” This can be found in their warm northern hospitality, generous spirit and community based vision.