A Century of Petroleum Extraction at Tłegǫ́hłı̨ (Norman Wells): Indigenous Knowledge for Indigenous Guardianship
Principal Investigator: Andrew, Leon (5)
Licence Number: 17015
Organization: Sahtú Renewable Resources Board
Licensed Year(s): 2022
Issued: Apr 29, 2022
Project Team: Deborah Simmons, Gordon Yakeleya, Rhea McDonald, Daniel Jackson, Sharon Snowshoe, Arn Keeling, John Sandlos, Kristy Gurney, Marlene Evans, Karen Dunmall, Brian Laird, Bruna Cardoso, Blair Kennedy, Gillian Donald, Kevin Kemball, Dave Blaine, Micheline Manseau, Jess Dunkin, Petra Dolata

Objective(s): To explore Dene and Me´tis knowledge about the cumulative impacts of a century of petroleum operations at Norman Wells and downstream, supporting meaningful Indigenous contributions to decisions about closure and reclamation, strengthening Indigenous stewardship roles, and providing education and training for youth.

Project Description: This licence has been issued for the scientific research application No.5049.

This project will explore Dene and Me´tis knowledge about the cumulative impacts (CI) of a century of petroleum operations at Norman Wells and downstream, supporting meaningful Indigenous contributions to decisions about closure and reclamation, strengthening Indigenous stewardship roles, and providing education and training for youth.
Intended outcomes of this research are:
1. Compile an archive of documented sources about the history and CI of petroleum extraction at Norman Wells with a focus on sources including Indigenous experiences and perspectives, and interpret materials through a study circle including university and community collaborators.
2. Document oral histories with a focus on Indigenous knowledge about CI on fish, water and to?dzi.
3. "Ground truth" current evidence of CI through boots on the ground observation by Ne? K'?´di´ Ke - Keepers of the Land.
4. Interpret current CI observations in light of historical knowledge through dialogue between Ne? K'?´di´ Ke and elders.
5. Facilitate dialogue between Dene/Me´tis knowledge holders/Ne? K'?´di´ Ke/youth and scientists about CI of petroleum extraction at Norman Wells.
6. Contribute to community planning, proposal review and input to the Sahtu´ Land and Water Board on closure and reclamation of the Norman Wells Proven Area, including design of a Ne? K'?´di´ Ke program to monitor activities.
7. Contribute community presentations at the SRRB's 2022 Public Listening (Hearing) on the topic of Knowledge about Caribou and Landscapes, and the 2024 Public Listening (Hearing) on the topic of Caribou Conservation and the Sahtu´ Mixed Economy.
8. In partnership with the Gwich'in Tribal Council's River Journeys project, train youth in video production and produce short videos about Indigenous knowledge and science related to CI of the Norman Wells petroleum extraction history, to be compiled as a feature documentary film.

This community-driven project will be guided by the Working Group (Ne? K’? Dene Ts’i?li? Forum). The methodology will be developed by the Working Group. Mixed methods for each of the key objectives, focus group approach to interpreting archival materials.

The research will be completed through six main activities – a slowed pacing provides flexibility in case of COVID-19 contingencies:
1. Archival research and collaborative interpretation of archival materials bringing together academic and community-based highly qualified personnel (HQP) (Years 1 and 2).
2. Oral histories with knowledge holders (Years 1 and 2).
3. Dialogue with scientists and other specialists through the Ne? K’? Dene Ts’i?li? Forum(Years 1-3).
4. Ne? K’?´di´ Ke training and ground-truthing cumulative impacts through field work to be designed in the upcoming year (Year 2).
5. Closure and reclamation planning through workshops (Year 3).
6. River Journeys: Development of short videos (Years 1 and 2) and compilation of a documentary video through workshops with youth and knowledge holders (Year 3).
Our Memorial University collaborators have already identified a body of relevant material stretching from the 1930s to the 1980s, including government documents, technical reports, sound recordings, and photographs at Library and Archives Canada (Ottawa), Glenbow Archives (Calgary), and at the NWT Archives (Yellowknife).
As soon as feasible given COVID-19 contingencies, we plan to hire researchers local to these three cities to arrange for digital scanning relevant materials, including documents and photographs, and where possible arrange for a copy to be made of any archival films as the basis for a digital archive that can be accessible to interested communities and researchers. A study circle will provide opportunities for community members to interpret key archival materials in dialogue with Memorial University collaborators.

Oral histories (Years 1 and 2)
This method will include both compilation of existing recorded oral histories, as well as recording of new oral histories. The approach to new oral histories will first be developed through study circle sessions reviewing and interpreting questions arising from documented historical context as well as community knowledge. The second round of design will be through training sessions with youth participating in the River Journeys program. Interviews will be oriented to eliciting meaningful stories, as well as any remembered impacts that might be included in a plan for ground-truthing. Where possible interviews will include mapping, and will be audio or video recorded and transcribed with participant consent. Participants will be invited to workshop any products arising from these oral histories, and will have an opportunity to validate/verify in context any videos or texts in which their contributions appear.

Ground truthing (Year 2)
Knowledge holders will travel with young Ne? K’?´di´ Ke in areas of the Norman Wells Proven Area designated by knowledge holders in order to document (by video where possible) and discuss impacts of petroleum extraction. The ground truthing team will collaboratively develop an optimal “mixed method” of achieving their objectives in documenting presently evident impacts as part of the training. Focus groups with knowledge holders in the communities will provide opportunities for comparing historical and current observations.

Closure and reclamation planning (Year 3)
Participants will develop a vision, situation analysis (threats, causes of threats, objectives, indicators), and results chain (activities to achieve results, harms reduced) for water, fish, todzi and people in the Norman Wells Proven Area, and for water and fish, downstream, based on Indigenous knowledge and science gathered and collectively analysed through the study circles. The objective of the archival project is to understand federal and territorial policies and actions related to the development and operation of the Imperial Oil Ltd. Norman Wells development. These sources will provide a knowledge base about key economic, environmental, and social aspects of the Norman Wells installation that will be combined (in phase 2) with Indigenous Knowledge of the cumulative impacts of a century of extraction. The River Journeys program in developing videos will be initiated. Participating youth will be invited to choose their favourite historic audio recording and using it to create a short film, and/or to shoot an oral history with a knowledge holder and contemporary images of the land and wildlife. Wherever possible, students will interview a living elder who is related to the elder in the historic interview so the final films explore experiences with the oil industry over two generations. At the end of the workshop, a selection of the videos would be placed on the “River Journeys” website. Year 3 will be focused on development of closure and reclamation plans, including plans for post-closure environmental monitoring, based in part on compilation, interpretation and community presentation of results from oral histories and ground-truthing. As well, this will be the year for knowledge dissemination and mobilization within communities (including at a regional or Territorial results workshop and regional decision-making proceedings), and preparation of research products, including a webpage, community reports and presentations, Facebook posts and other products requested by the partnering communities. The final phase of the River Journeys project will lead to completion of a feature documentary film. In the third year of the program, the most skilled and enthusiastic young people from previous years would work as a team to harness the historical and scientific video gathered over the previous two years to produce a full-length documentary encompassing the century-long experience of the Sahtú people with oil extraction at Norman Wells. This documentary could be used on television and on-line to promote the conclusions reached by the researchers evaluating the environmental and social impacts of a century of oil production on Sahtu´ lands. Over the course of three years, a valuable visual record of a century of oil production in the Sahtu´ will be created. At the same time, a group of young people will acquire the professional skills to create video and new media reflecting the historical and contemporary experiences of their people.

Results will be communicated to partnering communities through a combination of various media (which may include posters, newsletters, public presentations, presentations at schools, Ne? K’? Dene Ts’i?li? Forum meetings and to partnering organisations, video and Facebook posts) as directed by the project team and partnering communities, and depending on team capacity. The project will be featured on the Sahtú Renewable Resources Board website, www.srrb.nt.ca. The research team will also take opportunities to present to the larger NWT public opportunistically through conferences. Regarding the interviews with community members, a draft report will be provided to them for review and comment prior to being made publicly available. A final report will be provided to the Sahtú Renewable Resource board, CIMP and all Sahtú communities for use in their community conservation planning.

The fieldwork for this study will be conducted from April 30, 2022 to December 31, 2022.