Robert Loe rests his hand on the front door of the gathering place, youth centre before locking up.
“I always do this when I go, it reminds me to leave my work at work,” Loe said as he steals one last glance back at space he holds near and dear to his heart.
In a little over three years, Loe, the youth recreation coordinator for Acho Dene Koe First Nation in Fort Liard, Northwest Territories, has accomplished what he set out to do.
“When the hamlet was open, all they did was focus on 13 and under and there was no programs for adults or high school students. But they need something to do rather than just walk around,” Loe said.
He hit the ground running and planned the first dene hand games tournament Fort Liard had seen in years.
“During our second hand games tournament, we decided to go with straight youth. The whole buzz around town was how proud everyone was of us, especially the youth and how well they were playing,” he said.
But Loe is less than 24-hours away from leaving his home community to take up employment with Indigenous youth in the nearby-sister town of Fort Nelson, British Columbia.
In a larger centre, with more clients and more support staff, he will be couched with more responsibility, something Loe said he’s ready for.
“I am looking forward to the challenge, I don’t know much about Fort Nelson youth, but I will get acquainted to them, see what they are interested in, see what they want to do and see don’t want to do anymore,” Loe said.
Across the road from the gathering place, is the community arbour.
While there’s much to do and many goodbyes to be made, Loe coordinates one final impromptu-weeknight-gathering in the heart of town to honour a cultural revival he’s proud to have been a part of.
“I realized when I came back from college there were no local drummers anymore. I talked to a couple of those older ones and they said they just don’t have any time anymore. For four years we had to hire outside drummers to come in,” Loe said.
In next to no time the arbour is filled with the infectious beat of the drum, and community members.
Dale Timbre, starts with an opening prayer song.
“I use to be nervous when I was young had my head down with my hat but now i just love playing and feel proud. I sing to people and I am not shy,” Timbre said.
He takes every opportunity he can to play for his three-year-old son.
“We are getting older, so it’s good to see the younger generation pick up after us. A lot of people didn’t learn to drum here, but when we started, a lot of people came after us. I know a lot of young boys are grabbing drums,” he said.
Loe worked hard to bridge a generational divide he saw holding youth back from participating in traditional activities.
“I grew up speaking fluently, like most of the kids my age, with my grandparents and aunties speaking it. But we had just one Slavey (dene language) class which was the bare minimum. Now, like most people my age, I barely speak it as much as I’d like to,” Loe said.
While he encouraged the language at the youth centre by way of programming, some projects were harder to sell.
“I tried to do on the land healing but some of the youth were intimidated by the Elders because they weren’t raised by them,” he said.
Loe told APTN News he understood where the youth were coming from, he had to overcome some nervousness as he learned how to drum in his 20s.
Now, friends like Rebecca Grôssetete bring their children to community gatherings like this.
“Robert told me this was happening tonight, My daughter likes the drumming too. When hand games are going on we come here, you know keep the tradition alive,” Grôssetete said.
While the day is bittersweet, Loe is grateful for what his community has given him.
“Drumming made me more in touch spiritually. I had more community pride than I did prior to that. When we had our first hand games tournament and drum dance here […] I didn’t want it to be a one off. I wanted it to keep going and going six years later,” Loe said.