Documentary highlights youth hike through Mackenzie Mountains

Left to right: Jordan Lennie, Dene National Chief Norman Yakeleya, Erinn Drage and Nicholas Castel. (Francis Tessier-Burns/CKLB).

“We go into the mountains to find out who we are as a people,” said Norman Yakeleya.

The Dene National Chief was addressing about 80 people gathered for the screening of In the Footsteps of Our Ancestors.

The hour-long documentary follows the 11 hikers part of the 2017 Canol Trail Youth Leadership Hike along their 60-kilometre trek in the Sahtú region.

Yakeleya founded the hike about ten years ago.

He called on Erinn Drage and Nicholas Castel to tell its story. In planning the project, the pair of filmmakers met Jordan Lennie and the trio set on documenting the trip.

All three say it was a life-changing experience; for Lennie it was a chance to reconnect with his culture.

“As a Sahtú Métis, it was incredible,” he said in an interview with CKLB. “I got a feel, even if just a taste, of what my ancestors went through out there.”

Showing at home

The filmmakers premiered their creation earlier this month in Tulita, Lennie’s hometown.

“I was immeasurably nervous,” he said and added that coming from a small community meant added pressure of people liking the film. “I’m really happy I got to premiere in my home… everyone was really excited that I got to be a part of that.”

The trio then stopped in Norman Wells for a screening before wrapping up the NWT dates in Yellowknife last night.

Tomorrow, they show the film in Ottawa at the Canadian Museum of Nature before going to Edmonton on February 6.

“The purpose of the film is twofold because when you’re showing it to a southern Canadian audience, it’s a big educational tool to teach people about a place they may never have heard of before,” said Drage, “but when you’re showing it in the communities, it’s a way to give those stories back to the community and represent them in a way that hasn’t been done before.”

Cleaning up the mess

The Canol Trail was built by the United States Army Corps of Engineers following the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The plan was to run a 355-kilometre pipeline from oil-rich Norman Wells to Whitehorse.

The documentary shows the army relying heavily on the Shúhtagot’ı̨nę to wind its way through the Mackenzie Mountains.

The project cost millions and was abandoned about a year after the pipeline was completed.

Debris from old wheels to telephone wire remain scattered along the trail.

“It’s a bit of an environmental mess out there,” said Castel.

Since the 2017 hike, the federal government has started funding remediation efforts to make the trail part of a territorial park.

The funding comes after youth in Norman Wells have been cleaning up the trail for years.

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