Hiking the Canol Trail speaks to the identity, history and development of Sahtu youth


Walking the Canol Trail in the traditional lands of the Sahtu Métis Dene continues to be a way to develop leadership and skills in the field.

For the 17th year, Norman Yakeleya led a group of hikers along the Heritage Trail between July 14-29 for the Canol Youth Leadership Hike. The goal, again, was to strengthen the connection between the next generation of Sahtu Dene, Métis and Mountain Dene with their ancestral territory.

The Canol Heritage Trail remains a source of pride because, during World War II, Northern Dene guides and their land navigation skills were essential in helping bring the United States Army Corps of Engineers from Norman Wells to the west coast to ship a lot – need fuel.

In more contemporary times, however, the road also represents a sore point for beneficiaries of the Sahtu Dene and Metis Comprehensive Land Claim Agreement of 1993, which provides, in part, for clearing the road of debris left by the military presence. as well as the creation of a preserved park.

Yakeleya said he was pleased with the turnout for the 2022 trek, as 21 participants traversed dense bush and mountainous terrain for a trek of around 64 km over several days.

“We had Sahtu youth as well as adult hikers, a mix of boys and girls and an elders camp with (representation) from Fort Good Hope, Tulita and Norman Wells,” Yakeleya said. “They were all there to help us teach our young people how to live off the land.”

Hiking the route, Yakeleya pointed out, builds leadership among participants because not only is it physically and mentally demanding, but it involves wildlife viewing, learning about the history of the area, the use of native language and use of natural sources of traditional medicine.

“Basically, being on the land allows us to come together as a people,” Yakeleya explained. “A lot of our young people are really challenged by today’s global technology – cell phones, iPads – in addition to other challenges like drinking, smoking drugs that cause situations in our small communities. We let’s not really give them (our young people) much of a chance, and so by having them on the trail and walking in the footsteps of our ancestors, they get a sense of who they are as a people.

Yakeleya said the fact that the mix of northern natives work together to traverse various terrain conditions, from swamps and bushes to rocky hills and valleys to forested areas and river crossings and shorelines, helps a sense of accomplishment when participants reach the end.

“They’re all there to support each other as they walk the trail and to survive each other so they can complete the 40 miles and learn leadership skills,” he said. “Working together, being safe together, helping each other cook their food and keeping warm and talking to each other is part of that.”

Clean the area

The conversation around the need to sanitize the route and clean the environment of debris ranging from telecommunications cables to fuel tanks to vehicle parts is never far from the hike itself. Yakeleya, who was at the land claims negotiation table in 1993, said the lack of momentum for the cleanup and a transfer of land from the federal government amounts to unhonored treaties nearly three decades later.

“The sad thing is that the GNWT and the federal government are still bickering over who will be the one to hold the bag with the land transfer,” he said. “We are still looking – 29 years later – to the two governments, but they are not yet deciding (on the cleanup) and we are wasting time.

“We see a career opportunity in taking management control among our Sahtu youth and career employment in culture and tourism,” said the former MLA and National Chief of the Dene Nation. “Both governments do not live up to their words.”


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