Film Clip and Commentary from the film "We Remember"

Directed by Raymond Yakeleya

From Chapter 8,The Sickness

For the Dene and Inuvialuit in the NWT in 1928, “the white man introduced them to a new way to die” when a flu pandemic was brought up the Mackenzie River on the steamship SS Distributor.


Listen to Raymond Yakeleya's Director's commentary for this clip

Transcript of Director's Commentary

This is one of the most important stories of the North West Territories, probably the most important story because the discovery of oil made the Government of Canada want to have Treaty Number 11 with the Dene People. So Our relationship with the Government of Canada changed once and for all with the founding of oil in Norman Wells and it was on the lands of the Blondin family, my relatives, in Norman Wells -- really important stories in the history of the North.

(In response to words spoken by his grandmother, Elizabeth Yakeleya.) These are really hard words by my grandmother and my relatives really express the point of the Blondin family, my family in regards to the discovery of oil and how they were driven criminally by their lands by Imperial Oil. The story is not over yet. It's powerful to hear their story about how they were driven from their land and their homes destroyed and how a leader family from the Sahtu became homeless.

Extended transcript from the book "We Remember the Coming of the White Man."

Chapter "Oil Discovery"


“The natives found it and never got anything and that's the truth.” — Joe Blondin


According to the official records, an oil sample was brought to Athabasca Landing from Fort Norman in 1912. In 1914 T.O. Bosworth, a geologist, staked claims to seepages found by local families. In 1920 Imperial Oil bought Bosworth’s claims and drilled for oil.

No mention has ever been made in the history books of John Blondin's and Elizabeth Yakeleya's father who discovered the oil on their land:


My father found the oil in Norman Wells. We had seven cabins on Gaute Lake and we used to stay there in the springtime, sometimes all summer. Dad was duck hunting around the shore when he found something strange coming out of the
ground. It was boiling like water.

He came home and told the family, “I'll take an empty 2lb lard pail, put it in there and bring it back.” They took the pail with them when they went to town and gave it to the Hudson Bay Manager. He said, ''That's oil. I can't do anything with it but I'll ship it out for you. Maybe it'll do you some good.”

My dad died about a month after that and we didn't hear anything more.

In 1920 we saw white men coming along here.

"What are you doing?" we asked. “Staking an oil claim" was their answer.

We know nothing about it. My grandfather said to me, "That's the oil your dad found." How did the white men know? There had been no white people in the Mackenzie till then. No trappers. Just the trader.

— John Blondin

My dad found the oil in 1912. He was a pilot with Johnny Barens on the steamboat Distributor, that the Hudson Bay ran from Smith to Tuk. That is how he knew about white man’s ways. If he had lived it would have been recognized that he was the one who discovered the oil. But after it was shipped out he died and we never heard anything more about it.

In 1918 I was at school and Sister Mary spoke to me. “You know where your grandfather was living? That's where they are drilling for oil. Boys from Providence, Simpson, Resolution have come down by dog team to stake claims.”

We still had cabins there where we used to live some of the time. When the white trappers who used to go along the Mackenzie River asked my uncle to lend them one of those houses he always did. They would stay there for a year.

In the fall of 1924 when we went to our cabins everything was smashed. Nothing was left. I feel so bad about it. We thought the oil company might do something but they didn't. They say the white man found the oil but it's not true.

Elizabeth Yakeleya

Even before the news came back about the sample my grandfather had sent out, the oil rush was on. That spring half of Canada was down there. People came with dog teams, packsacks, snowshoes. Even from as far away as Alaska.

Everybody tried to get a little cut out of this oil strike. It was staked clean below Sans Sault Rapids, 70 miles below Norman Wells and 55 miles above Fort Norman. They figured that if they had property, they would have something but it didn't turn out that way. Imperial Oil had leased the property first and the people who had come in were just froze out.

The outsiders, the money men, knew what was going on but the local individual knew nothing. All Itsen* knew was that he'd get something out of it but he had nothing on paper. Well who knows about documents or regulations or having a title in those days? Everybody trusted everybody else and took a man's word of honor as the truth.

We had moved back to the mountains trapping. When we came back the Government had been in there and bulldozed all our houses down the bank and put up their own buildings. Our houses used to be where the transmitter is now.

My grandfather and my dad got free gas as long as they were alive. I got two cards for free gas and oil for two years and then they disqualified me.

Right now, Norman Wells is a white community. The Natives can't even pitch a tent there. I was born and raised there but all I can do is walk the streets. They are choking us little by little.

Now this is a great joke. Imperial Oil has got a magazine called Imperial Revue. I was reading in there how Mackenzie discovered the oil.. Mackenzie was never around that oil! The Blondins are the ones who discovered the oil. The natives found it and never got anything and that's the truth.

— Joe Blondin


We gratefully  acknowledge funding through the Canada Book Fund and the Alberta Media Fund.

Info about We Remember

HIS028000/Indigenous History
Book 3 in the Indigenous Spirit of Nature Series
6” x 9” | 256 pages | b/w photographs
Contains DVD of film We Remember, Redux
ISBN: 9781988824246 (pbk)
Price: $37.50 in Canada, $29.95 in US
Release date, March 21, 2020

Individuals: [email protected] or buy online.
Booksellers: Order through University of Toronto (UTP)   

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