2021-ongoing Petroleum Histories Project
After more than a century of operations, Imperial Oil is planning the closure of the Norman Wells oilfields. This has raised questions in communities across the Sahtú region about the history of oil extraction at Norman Wells and its impacts on land, water, animals, and Dene and Métis ts’ı̨lı̨ (way of life). While Sahtú communities are rich with oral histories about Dene and Métis experiences of and engagements with petroleum development, they have questions about the historical motivations and actions of industry and government.
Over the course of 2020-21, these questions were communicated by community leaders and members to Ɂehdzo Got’ı̨nę Gots’ę́ Nákedı (Sahtú Renewable Resources Board – SRRB) staff during a series of study circles and meetings of the Nę K’ǝ Dene Ts’ı̨lı̨ – Living on the Land Forum. Together the SRRB and the Norman Wells, Tulı́t’a, and Fort Good Hope Ɂehdzo Got’ı̨nę (Renewable Resources Councils), with input from the Nę K’ǝ Dene Ts’ı̨lı̨ Forum, designed “A Century of Petroleum Extraction at Tłegǫ́hłı̨ (Norman Wells): Indigenous Knowledge for Indigenous Guardianship.”
This project has been granted an NWT Scientific Research Licence (#17015) and has received ethics approval from Aurora College (AC-REC #22-02).
The purpose of this project is to document the history and impacts of the oil industry at Norman Wells in order to support Sahtú Dene and Métis participation in closure and reclamation of the Norman Wells oilfields and strengthen present and future Indigenous roles in monitoring, stewardship, and decision-making.
Stories and knowledge gathered through oral histories, archival research, ground truthing (fieldwork), study circles, and in-person gatherings will be shared through a narrative history, story maps, a website, and short and feature-length films. In addition to expanding local understandings of the history of the Norman Wells oilfields, the knowledge generated through this project will support the development of community conservation plans in the five Sahtú communities. These plans, in turn, will provide a range of evidence for regulatory bodies (Sahtú Land and Water Board, Sahtú Land Use Planning Board, Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board, and Mackenzie Environmental Impact Review Board) making decisions about the closure and reclamation of the Norman Wells oilfields.
- Compile an archive of sources about the history and impacts of petroleum extraction at Norman Wells.
- Record oral histories with a focus on Indigenous knowledge about cumulative impacts on land, water, animals, and Dene and Métis ts’ı̨lı̨.
- “Ground truth” current evidence of cumulative impacts through boots on the ground observation by Nę K’ǝ́dı́ke – Keepers of the
- Interpret current cumulative observations in light of historical knowledge through dialogue between Nę K’ǝ́dı́ke and elders.
- Facilitate dialogue between Dene and Métis knowledge holders, Nę K’ǝ́dı́ke, youth, and collaborators about the impacts of petroleum extraction at Norman Wells.
- Produce a community-informed and archival-based history of petroleum extraction at Norman Wells to be used as documentation for: Sahtú communities participating in ongoing remediation, closure, and reclamation processes; regional decision-making related to conservation of homeland, wildlife, and way of life; and new resource development projects.
- Contribute to community planning, proposal review, and input to the Sahtú Land and Water Board on closure and reclamation of the Norman Wells Proven Area, including design of a Nę K’ǝ́dı́ke program to monitor activities.
- Contribute community presentations to the SRRB’s Public Listening Sessions (Hearings) on caribou.
- In collaboration with the Gwich’in Tribal Council’s River Journeys team, 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
Already this project is enhancing community knowledge of the history and impacts of the oil industry at Norman Wells through fieldwork, study circles, and in-person gatherings. It is also building connections and relationships between community members and collaborators, and between communities, government, and industry.
It is expected that this project will have significant impacts in empowering communities and supporting their involvement in closure and reclamation. It will strengthen the evidence base for decision-making by co-management bodies in addressing objectives of the Sahtú Dene and Métis Land Claim Agreement with respect to wildlife conservation and maintenance of Dene and Métis ts’ı̨lı̨. It will help to build a new generation of knowledgeable, skilled, and responsible leadership by bringing together knowledge holders and youth through a variety of activities including study circles, fieldwork, and video projects. It will will expand awareness of Indigenous experiences of long-term cumulative impacts, and the benefits of meaningfully including Indigenous peoples and their values and knowledge in closure and reclamation planning.
The Petroleum Histories Project has received funding from the Ărramăt Project to visit each of the Sahtú communities this fall/winter. The purpose of these visits is to tell more people about the Petroleum Histories Project, answer questions and receive feedback about the project, and gather stories about the history and impacts of the Norman Wells oilfields. In this video, SRRB Research Director and Shúhtaot’ı̨nę Elder Leon Andrew talks about why this project is important and how you can participate.
Team members, partners, and collaborators
- Leon Andrew, Ɂehdzo Got’ı̨nę Gots’ę́ Nákedı (SRRB)
- Deborah Simmons, Ɂehdzo Got’ı̨nę Gots’ę́ Nákedı (SRRB)
- Catarina Owen, Ɂehdzo Got’ı̨nę Gots’ę́ Nákedı (SRRB)
- Melanie Harding, Ɂehdzo Got’ı̨nę Gots’ę́ Nákedı (SRRB)
- Jonathan Yakeleya, Ɂehdzo Got’ı̨nę Gots’ę́ Nákedı (SRRB)
- Lisa McDonald, Norman Wells Ɂehdzo Got’ı̨nę (Renewable Resources Council)
- Anne Marie Jackson
- Jess Dunkin
- Gillian Donald, Applied Ecology
- Petra Dolata, University of Calgary
Partners and collaborators
- Fort Good Hope Ɂehdzo Got’ı̨nę (Renewable Resources Council)
- GNWT Department of Environment and Natural Resources
- Gwich’in Tribal Council, Department of Cultural Heritage
- Memorial University
- Nę K’ǝ Dene Ts’ı̨lı̨ - Living on the Land Forum
- Norman Wells Ɂehdzo Got’ı̨nę (Renewable Resources Council)
- Ɂehdzo Got’ı̨nę Gots’ę́ Nákedı (Sahtú Renewable Resources Board)
- Tulı́t’a Ɂehdzo Got’ı̨nę (Renewable Resources Council)
- University of Calgary
This project is funded by grants from GNWT Cumulative Impacts Monitoring Program (CIMP), GNWT Environment and Natural Resources, GNWT Industry Tourism and Investment, NWT Species Conservation and Recovery Fund (SCARF), Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), Polar Knowledge Canada, and the Ărramăt Project.
Petroleum Histories Project Team, "A Century of Petroleum Extraction at Tłegǫ́hłı̨ (Norman Wells)," ActiveHistory.ca, 5 December 2023.
Fall 2023 Study Circles Dates