In the Footsteps of our Ancestors chronicles Canol Trail hike

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Filmed on the traditional territory of the Shuhtagot’ine, In the Footsteps of our Ancestors explores a youth hike of the historic Canol Trail.

Dene Nation Chief Norman Yakeleya is one of the founders of the Canol Youth Leadership Hike. Avery Zingel/NNSL photo
Dene Nation Chief Norman Yakeleya is one of the founders of the Canol Youth Leadership Hike. Avery Zingel/NNSL photo

It all started with Dene National Chief Norman Yakeleya, Myles Erb, lawyer Garth Wallbridge and former premier of the NWT, Joe Handley who founded the hike together.

For 14 years, a group of various youth from across the Sahtu go out on a leadership hike along the trail to visit ancestral lands and absorb teachings from local Sahtu Dene and Metis elders.

The trip started at mile 37 of the trail, tracing the Dodo Canyon, Carcajou River and mountain lowland trail that spills out onto the mighty Mackenzie.

Yakeleya opened the Yellowknife screening on Monday. His son Chase Yakeleya was a toddler when his father started out on the Canol Trail. In 2017, they both embarked on the 37-mile journey.

The hikers come across the remnants of oil infrastructure laid during the Second World War – pumping stations to send oil from Norman Wells to Whitehorse. After the youth hike garnered attention, the federal government committed to clean up the remnants of war time infrastructure and pesky telephone wire.

The WWII-era pipeline was laid for 1,600 kilometres to pump oil from Norman Wells to Whitehorse where it would be refined. In 1941, after the Japanese attacked the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor on Oahu Island, Hawaii, allied forces feared oil tankers would not have safe passage. The Battle of the Aleutian Islands ramped up tensions as Japan seized two sparsely inhabited islands of Attu and Kiska in June 1942.

Fearing its western vulnerabilities, the U.S. turned inland for a reliable fuel source for its war effort.

While the pipeline workers left as quickly as they had arrived, the leaders of the Canol Trail hike have something in mind for the route, built with the knowledge of Dene who led U.S. workers through difficult terrain.

The film envisions a future for the trail, which offers some of Canada’s most challenging hiking, to become a designated Territorial Park.

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