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Treaty witnesses take long route to ceremony

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RAE-EDZO, Northwest Territories - The expansiveness of the Tlicho agreement in the Northwest Territories can be summed up by the travel experiences of one of the chiefs who attended the ceremonial signing.

By following an ancient waterway route to get to Rae-Edzo for Aug. 25, Chief Joseph Judas of Snare Lake (Wekweti) and the other 28 in his traveling party needed 10 days to canoe and portage through isolated rivers and forests.

"We took a route we never took before and we had to use a map," Judas said whose presence was required as one of the four chiefs of the Tlicho.

Snare Lake is the farthest of the four villages that comprise the Dogrib Treaty 11 Council and really, this trip combining paddling and overland hiking was likely one of the more viable options to get that many people to the ceremony. About 125 miles by air to Rae, bush planes fly daily but they only have limited seating capacities.

Forget driving however. The only way this community is linked to Rae is a winter road, a path that's constructed through trees yet needs an appropriate ice and snow build-up to become useable. Even in the winter, this route takes six to 10 hours and there aren't any service stations along the way.

Judas mentioned a trip by canoe can be faster, likely in four to five days. But because of the number of people on this journey, especially the kids, certain precautions had to be taken like avoiding the rapids of Snare River.

"These guys wanted to go faster but because we had the kids with us, we couldn't," the chief said.

With the area's remoteness and the needs of 29 people for a week-and-a-half required significant preparation. There were about half a dozen of these overland hikes ranging up to a mile long with parcels up to 50 pounds each.

The route attempted to follow the hunting paths of the Tlicho ancestors who took month-long trips to track caribou. Then, said Judas, in order to save room on the boats to return with the meat, only essentials like fish nets, tea and tobacco were brought, sparse provisions that meant the hunters had to live off the land.

"Poor father, he really suffered and worked hard to travel this road," uttered Judas quietly upon reflection.

After several days, Judas' group joined with two other parties from Rae Lakes (Gameti) and Lac La Martre (Whati). For the last couple of days, more than 100 Dogribs were canoeing the Marian River to get to the tip of the North Arm of the Great Slave Lake.

Judas pointed out that way back when as parties got closer to other settlements, friendly gunshots were fired. The absence of this warning meant that something was wrong.

On this journey, Judas said there weren't many problems except midway through when a motor on one of the five boats flooded. Because there was no room for tools, the crew called back home via radio for assistance. A more traditional repair job occurred when a canvas split and was patched up using spruce gum.

Because of the monumental occasion, the chiefs determined the importance of having many children attend in order to grasp the significance of the Tlicho Agreement.

"The younger people can see for themselves how many people we have to see and shake hands with our people," Judas said.