Canol cleanup starts at home, says former MLA Norman Yakeleya says contract to clean up the Canol Heritage Trail belongs in the Sahtu
Northern News Services
Saturday, July 22, 2017
LLI GOLINE/NORMAN WELLS
Let the Sahtu people clean up the Canol Heritage Trail, says a former Sahtu MLA and a founder of the Canol Trail Youth Leadership Hike.
McKenzie Barney participated in the Canol Trail Youth Leadership Hike in 2016. Former Sahtu MLA Norman Yakeleya says contracts for work to clean up contaminated sites along the trail should be awarded in the Sahtu region. - photo courtesy of Myles Erb
"If you were to put all the debris together, you would fill eight NHL hockey rinks," said Norman Yakeleya. "We're in a state in 2017 where we can do the job, we can clean it up."
Constructed during WW II as the Canol Road, the trail begins at Norman Wells and runs 355 kilometres to the Yukon border.
The project was a partnership between Canada and the U.S., to establish a permanent source of oil from Norman Wells to Alaska.
More than 30,000 people worked on the project constructing the Canadian portion of the roadway, as well as the oil pipeline and buildings. The project was abandoned in 1945, only a year after it was completed. Machinery, oil barrels and other debris still litter the trail, as well as unfired explosives and chemicals.
Last year, INAC put out a tender for bids on the remediation contract to cleanup the contaminated sites, but Yakeleya said under the Sahtu Dene and Metis Comprehensive Land Claim, that work should be awarded to businesses in the Sahtu.
"They have a public works department that says it's public funds so the bids have to be public," he said. "They have a policy that counteracts our land claim."
The trail is part of the proposed Doi T'oh Territorial Park and is on land in the Sahtu Dene and Metis Land Claim Settlement Area.
Sahtu beneficiaries have already done work to help clean up the trail, Yakeleya added.
After discovering that caribou and other animals were getting caught in abandoned telegraph wire along the trail, hikers with the Canol Trail Youth Leadership Hike, as well as the Doi T'oh Territorial Park Corporation, worked with the federal and territorial governments to implement a cleanup plan. The cleanup is now in its third and final year.
"It was because of the young people hiking with us and the young people going with us year after year that finally got the attention of the federal government," Yakeleya said.
Including the trail as part of the territorial park is a way to educate visitors the history of the roadway, as well as its significance to the area's Indigenous people, Yakeleya also said.
People from the area around Norman Wells and Tulita helped develop the road's pathway.
"They couldn't do it without the aboriginal people at that time," Yakeleya said. "The aboriginal people mentally knew the trail that led from Tulita and Norman Wells into the Yukon. They had a mental map."
Even today, the trail is considered one of the most difficult hiking routes in North America, a fact participants in this year's 12th annual Canol Trail Youth Leadership Hike will soon find out. This year's hike was scheduled to begin on July 23 and hikers were expected to begin at Mile 40 and walk to the Mackenzie River by July 30.
Norman Wells' Myles Erb has participated every year and a personal highlight for this summer's hike is that his mother, Lise Dolen, will be going with him.
The group will also have to account for a new obstacle - a landslide created a lake last year that surprised the hikers and altered their usual route.
"We're looking to take the same route that we scouted out last year, we're going to have to walk around the lake again," Erb said. "It adds an extra couple hours. You have to walk pretty much out of the canyon and back into it."
But it's the trail's difficulty that makes it such a vital teaching tool, Yakeleya said.
"It's knowing that if you want something bad enough, you have to walk towards it. As you walk towards it, you're going to learn a lot about who you are and what you're made of," he said. "The sense of accomplishment from walking the Canol Trail and the hardship and the sacrifice makes it all worthwhile once you finish the trail and you know, 'yes I did it'."
A request to Public Works and Government Services Canada regarding the current status of the Canol Heritage Trail Remediation Project's remediation contract was not returned by press time.