Forty years of traditional knowledge is coming out of the Yellowknives Dene First Nation archives and into the digital world, thanks to $90,000 of funding from the N.W.T. and federal governments.

The material has been moved several times over the years; the latest move into the back room at the new Yellowknives Dene office in Ndilo.

"It got to the point where I didn't want to turn the light on in here because I didn't want to look at it; it was really that much of a mess," said Randy Freeman, the YKDFN traditional knowledge specialist.

Yellowknives Dene archive maps

Old maps and overlays in storage at the Yellowknives Dene First Nation office in Ndilo. (Kate Kyle/CBC)

"Now we are absolutely amazed by what we've got."

Freeman said many times they would be consulting with elders for traditional knowledge for a mining project or another land use project when the elders would say 'we've done that already.'

The collection contains hundreds of maps and overlays sketched with elders' land knowledge and more than a thousand hours of recordings sit haphazardly in boxes and bins. The oldest maps are cracked and yellow, dating back to 1970s, and were recorded for the Dene Mapping project.

Before they could start logging their material into the GIS program, they had to figure out what it all was. Many of the maps and overlays were number coded but there was no explanation of what maps corresponded with each piece of traditional knowledge. They have cracked the code on some but there are still lots of unknowns.

The team hopes to find corresponding audio recordings from when the information was documented to get a clearer picture of who said it and when.

Stacey Sundberg

Stacey Sundberg is uploading data from the archives into a computer program. (Kate Kyle/CBC)

"Forty years ago, the people being interviewed would have had first-hand knowledge dating back to the late 1800s," said Freeman.

"That was quite astounding."

Stacey Sundberg is uploading that data into a computer program and it will eventually end up online.

"I showed a couple of youth from my community and they were really excited and were like 'wow' about what information was in there and all the trails that were around us they didn't know about."

The focus, for now, is on caribou-related knowledge. With more funding and resources the First Nation hopes to delve deeper.