Spreading the Power of Data message in the Northwest Territories

By Vi Nguyen (Statistical Analyst, Northwest Territories)

Mahsi cho. This is how Dene people greet one other, express their gratitude, and open (or close) a meeting. You hear this multi-purpose phrase a lot in Délįne, a remote community in the heart of the Northwest Territories (or “Denedeh”) and one of the 33 First Nation communities that make up the Dene Nation.

Famous for being the only community situated on the shores of Great Bear Lake (the fourth largest lake in North America) this  summer Délįne played host to the 45th Dene National Assembly which was attended by more than 40 representatives from across the territory. As the Statistical Analyst for the NWT I was honoured to be invited to take part in the annual event which took place July 21 – 24.

After a 14-hour journey from Ottawa I was greeted at the airport by Délįne community members who drove me over dirt roads and past a landscape of spruces trees and one-storey houses to their Community Centre, where I was welcomed with a feast of caribou barley soup and fresh lake trout cooked over an open fire.


After dinner, I settled into the home I was staying in and instinctively checked my cell phone for messages -- only to discover that there was no cellular service in town. It was a valuable reminder of the technical challenges that Fieldworkers in the NWT face when they attempt to sync their data for the First Nations Regional Early Childhood, Education, and Employment Survey (REEES) and First Nations Regional Health Survey (RHS).

The next morning, the Assembly kicked off with an opening ceremony that included a procession of Chiefs, delegates, and elders who led us all to a fire where we had a chance to give offerings to loved ones that have passed. The ceremony ended with traditional singing and drumming.

The 2015 Dene National Assembly opening ceremony

As the new NWT Region’s Statistical Analyst for the REEES and RHS, it was interesting to witness the Dene’s political processes, to listen to their issues and concerns, and to think about where our survey processes fit in. I listened in English, which was translated from a Chipewyan, North Slavey, South Slavey, Gwich’in, and Dog Rib – the five most widely used Dene languages.

Day Two of the Assembly was dedicated to the elections for Dene National Chief and the Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief for the Northwest Territories; Bill Erasmus was re-elected in both positions for another four-year term.

Chief Erasmus spoke of a broad range of issues that included climate change, fracking, and First Nations self-governance, among other things, which were echoed by other delegates and elders. I was invited by Chief Erasmus to address the Chiefs and delegates and explain my role in working for the Dene Nation, including how communities can request their data and what they can do with statistics.

Great Bear Lake in Deline, NWT

During lunch I also made a new friend, retired Chief Francois Paulette who has been a pivotal force in NWT history for more than 40 years. In the 1970s he led the Dene in their court case against the Territorial Government to protect their rights and land claims under Treaties #8 and #11.  

I loved the way that the Chief always shared a piece of Dene culture every time he met someone new – Dene or not – with two simple words: Mahsi cho.