Tulita, which in Dene language means “where the rivers or waters meet,” is a Hamlet in the Sahtu Region of the Northwest Territories, Canada. It was formerly known as Fort Norman, until January 1st, 1996 when it reverted back to it’s traditional Dene name. Tulita is located at the junction of the Great Bear River and the Mackenzie River; the Bear River originating from the Keith Arm of Great Bear Lake, the location of another Sahtu Comunity; Deline.
Tulita is in an area know as the Boreal Forest and well south of the tree line. Permafrost underlays the area, in more or less continuous in distribution. The Franklin Mountain Range runs parallel to the east side of the Mackenzie River, northwest of Tulita. Tulita as a community faces the Mackenzie Mountains to the west, which is world renown for Dall sheep, woodland caribou and fast flowing mountain rivers.
Tulita sits across the Bear River from Bear Rock the southern prominence of the Franklin Mountains. This place is of great significance to all Dene Peoples around the north and features on the logo for the Dene Nation as well as the local Tulita Dene Band. This sacred place connects Tulita to Yamoria; the Great Law Giver. While visiting Tulita, call the Hamlet or Band Office to connect with local story tellers.
With an elevation of 101 meters, Tulita has a rough population of 478 people. Common languages spoken are North Slavey and English. Tulita’s population is composed of Dene, Metis and Non-indigenous peoples. The Dene traditionally met seasonally in Tulita and even today, family groups identify as Shuta Got’ine, or Mountain Dene, K’aalo Got’ine or Willow Lake Dene and Peoples who lived along the River.
Notable locals have included Ethel Blondin-Andrew, Canada’s first Aboriginal female Member of Parliament, Frank Andrew, Local chief and political leader, Paul Andrew, radio and television journalist, and Hollywood star, Leslie Nielsen, who was station in Tulita as a boy with his father by the RCMP.
People and Culture
Since time immemorial, these lands was used and cared for by the Sahtu Dene people. People seasonally traveled through their traditional areas as the land could not support them living in a permanent settlement. Throughout the year, people would meet and discuss what and who they had seen on the land. Traditional knowledge was shared and changes were noted and adapted to after discussion with the Elders.
It was not until the coming of European Explorers, Missionaries and the Hudson Bay Company that permanent settlements began to emerge. It is documented that the Hudson Bay Company first had a post in present day Tulita in 1869 and the oldest Church in the North West Territories built in 1880 by Alan Hardisty now a recognized Heritage Site.
The Sahtu Dene Peoples were not prepared for the diseases brought by the southern travelers. It is well documented that thousands of people died due to influenza epidemics. The Roman Catholic Church began to lobby the Government of Canada to reach a Treaty Agreement so that the Dene would receive some support and relief from their situation. There is a belief that the Treaty 11 Party was finally dispatched in 1921, along the Mackenzie River due to the ‘discovery’ of oil in Norman Wells. Also in the 1920’s geologists began surveying the Sahtu which resulted with the ‘discovery’ of Uranium at Great Bear Lake. Rest assured the Dene people were well aware of these resources long before southern interests.