Deep within Canada's Northwest Territories, not far from the border with Alberta, live the Kakisa Dene First Nation. With a population of just 45 people, the indigenous community is the region's smallest.
Tributary rivers leading into Tathlina Lake, the traditional hunting ground — and culturally important land — of the Kakisa Dene First Nation. | (Pat Kane)
The region is rich in resources and the Kakisa Dene land, called Ka-agee Tu, or "Between the willows," has been sought after by mining companies for decades. The Kakisa Dene are working to get the Ka-agee Tu designated a conservation area because it sustains not only their livelihood but their culture as well.
But the land doesn't always cooperate. For three consecutive years, drought and wildfires have deprived the Kakisa Dene of their annual harvest festival, a special time that involves the entire community preparing for the winter and a celebratory feast. Children on up to the elders harvest berries, fish from the nearby Tathlina Lake, and hunt moose, beaver, and ducks.
In October 2015, the bounty returned, the Kakisa Dene celebrated, and Canadian photographer Pat Kane was there to capture it. "They welcomed me but they expected me to chip in, too — cut wood, stoke the fire, cook breakfast, make tea. We all pitched in and those are just the expectations of being out on the land, too. Nobody is above or below anyone else," he said in an interview.
Anita Chicot cuts firewood. | (Pat Kane)
The harvest is also an opportunity for the elders to pass the community's traditions onto the next generation. "In that sense," Kane said, "this harvest is about cultural preservation, too."
The threat to the Kakisa Dene's land from mining and other large-scale industrial companies isn't new or unique to their indigenous community — just look at the standoff between the Standing Rock Sioux and the Dakota Access pipeline. But the harvest allows the Kakisa Dene to celebrate their history, so tied to the wild land they call home. "It's a great experience," Kane said, "you could really see how happy everyone was, working and sharing together."
Kakisa Dene chief Lloyd Chicot and his nephew Tarek look for moose along the shore. | (Pat Kane)
Lloyd Chicot and Dawson Landry help pull a recently hunted moose to shore so that it can be quartered. | (Pat Kane)
Lloyd and Anita Chicot boat along a tributary river to their traditional hunting camp. | (Pat Kane)
Merisa Elleze and Rosie Canadien share a laugh after looking for grouse and berries on a nearby island. | (Pat Kane)
Moose meat is smoked in a makeshift teepee while hunter Julien Canadien checks on the progress. | (Pat Kane)
The jawbone of a moose is cooked over a camp fire to loosen the marrow inside.| (Pat Kane)
Tarek Chicot, a 14-year-old hunter, hauls a beaver into his boat. The meat will be used for stew and the pelt used for winter clothing. | (Pat Kane)
Elder Gabe Chicot washes his hands of moose blood. | (Pat Kane)
George Simba sits by the fire at the hunting camp. | (Pat Kane)
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