Yellowknife Research a Success

June 18, 2014

In early June the Toxic Legacies Team converged on Yellowknife for our first major field research trip. Although things could have gone very badly (lost luggage with crucial camera equipment; 3 team members ill at one point or another), we had a fantastic two weeks of constant activities.


John Sandlos and Arn Keeling spent a lot of time talking with groups and individuals about the issue of communicating with future generations (see a future blog on this) at Giant Mine. We met with Yellowknife mayor Mark Heyck, talked with our partner group Alternatives North, met with a representative of the Giant Mine Remediation Team, and presented to the City of Yellowknife Heritage Committee.

We also hosted a fantastic workshop in Ndilo (with a bus bringing folks from Dettah), introducing the project to the Yellowknives Dene communities and holding a long discussion about how the Yellowknives’ traditional knowledge and stories might be used to communicate the hazard at Giant Mine to future generations.


Mary Rose Sundberg spoke passionately in Weledeh about the importance of oral history, Kevin O’Reilly gave an overview of the perpetual care issues at Giant Mine, Johanne Black talked about her work on Giant with YKDFN Lands and Environment, Arn Keeling summed up the status of our historical mapping work at Giant, while our film crew (France Benoit, Ron Harpelle, and Kelly Saxberg) outlined their work on the “Guardians of Eternity” project.


At all of our meetings, we were impressed with the depth of knowledge and expressions of commitment to the issue of ensuring that the Giant Mine site is commemorated so that does not represent a danger to those in future.

Our film crew was almost constantly at work, conducting interviews and building our stock of footage of the lanscapes surrounding Giant Mine. A highlight was a field trip to Burwash, the first small gold mining operation in Yellowknife (c. 1935) and community, and thus the first site of contact between the Yellowknives Dene and the new northern mining economy. In addition to the crew, the field group included the YKDFN traditional knowledge specialist Randy Freeman, Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Center staffers (local history specialist Ryan Silke and archaeologist Glen McKay), YKDFN member Fred Sangris, and John Sandlos (freed for a day from the archives).


Beneath the bright sun and amid the emerging mosquitos, we surveyed what remains of the old townsite, looked for signs of Yellowknives occupation in the area (which dates back centuries), and talked about the history of the area at the site of the old mining shaft.


As a result of our many discussions, we hope to create a local working group in Yellowknife that will discuss strategies for communicating hazard and the perpetual care requirments at Giant Mine to the near and distant future.

We are moving forward with all projects, so look for more updates in this space in the coming months.