‘The barrenlands are not a friendly place,’ says N.W.T. trapper after 2 searches in 1 month
Two searches have been launched in the past month near Mackay Lake
By Alex Brockman, CBC News, Feb 25, 2017
The barrenlands of the Northwest Territories have been known as a dangerous place for hundreds of years.
It’s unforgiving. There are few signs of vegetation beyond the treeline, treacherous crevices in the rocks and freezing winds bringing temperatures below —50. The Dene have traditional stories of people going in and never coming back.
For more than two days this week, Joe Black was lost near Murdock Lake, 150 kilometres northeast of Yellowknife. He’d been separated from his hunting party after his snowmobile crashed into a crevice.
Though searchers found him alive, he’s the second hunter to go missing there in the past month and an Indigenous trapper warns more hunters could become lost as caribou winter further north each year and young hunters lack the training to survive.
“The barrenlands are not a friendly place. It’s a very scary place, especially if you’re by yourself. It’s an unknown country,” explained Fred Sangris, a Yellowknives Dene hunter and trapper who’s been in the barrenlands several times.
“When you travel by yourself, anything can happen,” he said.
Sangris has been going out to hunt and trap for thirty years, sometimes accompanied by Black, who’s his cousin. He described Black as a “bushman” who has the experience and wisdom necessary to survive alone, but doubts younger hunters have the same skills.
“We don’t have the skills to live off the barrenlands like our ancestors,” he said. “Many of the younger people who go out live below the treeline and don’t have the experience or the skills so they get themselves in trouble.”
More training encouraged
When Sangris went out, he’d have a team of 10 sled dogs with him, he said. Those dogs would remember the trail back to camp. Today’s hunters ride snow machines and do not have that help from the dogs.
“At least the sled dogs can remember their way,” Sangris said. “But with a Ski-Doo, it’s very difficult. It’s rough terrain. If there’s a blizzard, you can’t find your way.”
Sangris said he wants young hunters to get more training from community elders, to learn advanced skills to live on the land. And he warns that nobody should ever go off by themselves.
“Stay with the group. There is safety with the group. Things can go bad really fast,” Sangris said. “Joe had the skills and experience, he managed to hang on and survived. But most people are not as fortunate and don’t have the skills.”