Joe Nasogaluak wants the new Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk highway in the Northwest Territories to commemorate a tragic story of the residential school era.
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Nasogaluak is calling on the Hamlet of Tuktoyaktuk to lobby the Northwest Territories government to name the new all-weather road after three boys who ran away from Inuvik's Stringer Hall residential school in the 1970s.
Bernard Andreason, Lawrence Jack Elanik and Dennis Dick left the residential school in June 1972. Andreason was the only one to survive the ordeal.
He walked 150 kilometres over two weeks in the wilderness before walking into Tuktoyaktuk with badly swollen feet, according to testimony collected by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Elanik's body was located, but the search for Dick was called off. Two of the boys were from Tuktoyaktuk and the other was from Sachs Harbour, N.W.T.
"It was forgotten, it was not brought up," Nasogaluak said. "It had a big impact at that time for the families and young people like myself. I knew the family, they were our neighbours. It was never talked about."
He suggests the new road — which follows a similar route to the one the boys took from Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk — should be called the Freedom Trail to commemorate their story.
"We have to remember these kids," Nasogaluak said. "They were running away, to freedom. To get away from whatever happened or might have happened. They were afraid and tried to make it to the village of Tuk, to their home."
Though Nasogaluak has not started a formal petition, a Facebook post from earlier this summer suggesting the idea was shared 72 times on social media. He said he wants to raise awareness of their story so it is not forgotten.
"They weren't running away for stealing a pack of cigarettes, there was something more. They were afraid," he said. "They were fighting for their lives, to reach home, for freedom."
Nancy Zimmerman, a spokeswoman for the N.W.T. Department of Infrastructure, said in an email that the government recognizes the harm caused by residential schools, but the new highway will remain the Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk Highway for the foreseeable future.
Nasogaluak says that amounts to another "slap in the face" to the boys' memory.
"We have to recognize something that happened in this community," he said.
"It's a sad situation, but by naming it something instead of just 'Inuvik Tuktoyaktuk Highway,' we could put this behind us and become more positive."
An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Bernard Andreason as Bruce.Aug 28, 2017 11:10 AM CT