Canadian Zinc’s long-awaited all-seasons road to its Prairie Creek mine continues to clear regulatory hurdles and could soon mean a green light for tourism and industry opportunities for the Nahanni Butte Dene Band.
But the planned construction isn’t just opening new economic lanes for the community – it’s forging a path back to tradition, too.
Members of Nahanni Butte Dene Band have begun work on a trapline that will follow the proposed route of the new road, with the community’s youth playing a large role in a process that’s deeply rooted in Indigenous history.
“Right now there’s no work for our youth so what we’re going to do is open up the trapline for them … so they can start learning how to trap,” said Chief Peter Marcellais.
By connecting young people to their roots through trap laying, Marcellais added that he wants to bring back part of the culture that’s been lost.
Mark Pocklington, Nahanni Butte Dene Band manager, said the initiative is, in part, a response to the challenges of getting the community’s youth off their phones and back onto the land.
Pocklington, who has kids himself, said youth spend too much time on social media and not enough time learning the lay of the land. But by getting them involved with the trapline – milling trees and clearing bush – Pocklington said participating youth are acquiring skills that will take take them far in life.
“They’re learning to be self-sufficient,” he said.
But they’re doing more than just that. By following Canadian Zinc’s planned route to its mine, Band members are providing the company valuable baseline data.
Pocklington said community members are able to identify any roadblocks, like swamps or rugged terrain, that may prove obstructive once the company begins the road’s construction. In doing so, Pocklington said their efforts will help usher in a “road to the future.”
The gateway to future development isn’t limited to mining. The all-seasons road will drive in new opportunities for tourism, too. With the mine situated within Nahanni National Park Reserve, a new road would make the remote park far more accessible, as the only current passage is by float-plane or helicopter. Due to the high costs associated with getting into the park, only guests with the financial means are able to visit the area. Pocklington said a new road would open up the park for the “common person.”
While some initial reservations about the proposed route’s effect on wildlife were expressed by community members, Pocklington said the Band’s unique location on Indian Affairs Branch land – a protected parcel – means they can monitor the comings and goings of people travelling the road, particularly unwanted hunters.
But even as Canadian zinc moves closer to getting approval for the road’s planned construction, some roadblocks still linger.
“This is very political in many ways, because of the jurisdictional disputes,” Pocklington said. Both Dehcho First Nation and The Liidii Kue First Nation in Fort Simpson have claimed the mine route passes through their territory.
In May, Nahanni Butte Dene Band withdrew from the Dehcho First Nation over the dispute.
On Canadian Zinc’s end, the company is still working through environmental evaluations and approvals, but in late September, AMC Mining Consultants Canada recommended that the company move forward with the road’s construction.