Dahti Tsetso

On the Land and In the Heart: Dahti Tsetso work in Indigenous-Led Conservation

“One of the things I noticed in my own life is that when I felt like I was on the right path, when I was going in the right direction, things would start to kind of fall into place…. The opposite can also be true, if you're going in a way that you're not supposed to, things can get a little bit harder, and so listen to that as well,” shares Dahti Tsetso. She Tłı̨chǫ Dene and lives in Fort Simpson, Northwest Territory. She worked for Dehcho First Nations for eleven years and at first, she was their Resource Management Coordinator, working with member communities around their regulatory system. 

Over time, her responsibilities increased to include negotiations on the Edéhzhíe Dehcho Protected Area and the development of a stewardship and a guardian program. With the support of local leaders, elders and youth, she grew professionally and they created a Director of Lands and Resources role for her. She eventually left the organization to join the Indigenous Leadership Initiative. 

Her new role draws on her experiences with Dehcho First Nations and lets her put the skills she’s gained to work in a new way. “The mandate of this organization is to spotlight and advocate for Indigenous leadership in conservation and to highlight all of the examples all across Canada to the federal government and  private organizations and help give voice to why our people all across the country are in the best position to help take care of land and water. It's been a natural kind of step into a different role but something that was really complementary to what I was doing,” she explains.

Tsetso is motivated by her people’s culture and way of life. She is inspired to find ways to strengthen her community and herself. Growing up, colonialism and residential school issues weren’t part of mainstream conversation. “I remember growing up feeling very confused about who I was. I was disconnected from my language, which disconnected me from my maternal grandparents, in many ways, because they were unilingual. It left me feeling very lost a lot of the time throughout my youth,” she recalls. 

When she went away to school, she was drawn to the sciences but realized that wasn’t what she was meant to do. She found a combined degree program that included Native studies and environmental sciences. “That was the start of connecting the dots and explaining why things are the way they are and also just the start of lots of pride in who we are as Indigenous people. We're very resilient people. We're really strong people,” she beams. 

In her studies, Tsetso focussed her assignments on her people and learned more about how what she was learning related to her community. When the Resource Management Coordinator opened up, it was the perfect fit, though she has had to balance parenting and meeting her own personal needs alongside her professional pursuits. “I feel really blessed in many ways that things align that way for me. Looking back, it looks almost like it was guided in some way, that there was help getting to where I am now. I often reflect on that. I've always been really grateful for that,” she shares. 

Illustration by Shaikara David

When she left the North to go to school in Alberta, she faced discrimination that she didn’t expect after growing up in what felt like a bubble in the North. Tsetso also had a hard time with loneliness, being so far from home. Having strong social support made things easier as did turning the experience into a journey of exploring a new world and making friends. If she could give  a message to her younger self it would be, “Trust yourself. Trust that you have a purpose in life, that you have gifts to bring to bear.” 

"Trust yourself. Trust that you have a purpose in life, that you have gifts to bring to bear."

"Your mental health is so important to your success. You’ve got to pay attention to your needs."

Something else Tsetso did to be successful was plan for her financial security, working hard over the summer so she could focus on her studies throughout the year. Tsetso applied to scholarships on top of her summer earnings and she budgeted to ensure she knew what she needed to get through the year. Ensuring her basic needs were met was crucial. 

Growing up in a large family, Tsetso is someone who needs to connect with people regularly for the sake of her happiness and she suggests Indigenous students leaving home for school listen to their own needs and find ways to meet them. Connecting with Indigenous student groups on campus is something she recommends as she found the University of Alberta’s Aboriginal Student Council helpful when she was there. With so many ways to stay in touch virtually, staying connected with home isn’t as hard as it used to be either. 

To find balance in her mental health and wellness, Tsetso looks to manage her time and create balance in work and play, getting done what she needs to professionally while taking time for what she enjoys. Procrastination is something she has been working to overcome and there isn’t really a one-size fits all way to make things work but she’s found the best way to take care of herself is to take time for herself personally and professionally or academically so she can find success and resist the temptation to play all the time. 

When she needs inspiration, Tsetso looks to her kids. “I always think about the kind of world I want them to walk into. I really want a world for them that enables them to be strong in who they are, young Dene people and find places of work that feed that part of who they are, in the same way that I have been able to do that. I'm really inspired by my own kids. I think becoming a mother probably changed my whole world and everything that I want to do is really driven a lot by them,” she confides. 

On the right path, going in the right direction, things fell into place for Dahti Tsetso. Grounded in her education in Indigenous studies and environmental sciences, she’s made a career of Indigenous-led conservation and leadership. Once confused about who she was, she’s found new strength and confidence in her identity, where she’s meant to be and how to take care of it.

Thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for authoring this article.

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Key Parts

  • Career
  • Identity
    First Nations
  • Province/Territory
    Northwest Territories
  • Date
    May 27, 2024
  • Post Secondary Institutions
    No PSI found.
  • Discussion Guide
    create to learn discuss

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