North

'I belong up here': Sask. man makes bucket list trip to N.W.T.

Alec Beavereye grew up in Uranium City, Sask. hearing stories of the North — now he can finally cross it off his list.

Uranium City’s Alec Beavereye grew up hearing stories of the North

Alec Beavereye (centre) in front of his RV at Fred Henne Park, with CBC hosts Marlene Grooms (left) and Lawrence Nayally (right). (Lawrence Nayally/CBC)

When Alec Beavereye pulled into Yellowknife, it felt like coming home.

"I wasn't disappointed," he said.

Beavereye, 62, is tall, grey haired, and soft-spoken. He's come to Yellowknife's Fred Henne Park on a journey he's been thinking of making for most of his life.

Beavereye grew up in Uranium City, Sask., 20 kilometres from the province's border with the N.W.T. But his family's roots in the territory are deep.

"My late father is from somewhere in the territories," he said. "His family all passed away from smallpox when he was a young man, maybe 17."

His father came south to Saskatchewan shortly after, but his parents continued to hunt and trap near Fort Smith. Beavereye is Dene, and fluent in Denesuline, a language spoken across the northern prairies and the southeastern part of the N.W.T.

I belong up here... It's where I was supposed to be- Alec Beavereye

"I thought a lot about Yellowknife," he said. "I realized that they were all Dene there as I got older… and I thought maybe I'll go visit some of my ancestors."

Then, just under two years ago, Beavereye was diagnosed with cancer.

"I'm from Uranium City," he said. "There's all those uranium mines there, and a lot of us have come down with cancer."

"While I was doing my treatment [in Prince Albert], my nephew … told me, 'You should go for a trip. Where you want to go?'"

One place sprang to mind: Yellowknife.

"It was something we talk about, and something we always wanted to see," he said.

"We had our ups and downs" on the road, Beavereye said. "I almost ran out of gas a few times … [and] a few times it was kind of a little scary … We saw a lot of wildlife along the way, bears and that."

"When we got to Yellowknife, it kind of blew us away, the city. We didn't know how big it was.

"Yellowknife has a unique history behind it, and it's still there," he said. "And being a Native there, I was happy to see that.

"I feel that strong connection to the land and to the people, in the olden days. I belong up here. It's where I was supposed to be in the first place, not down south somewhere."

When he spoke to CBC, Bearereye had already extended his trip by a day — but he couldn't stay forever.

"I'm going to go home and start more treatment again," he said, "but I got a lot of beautiful pictures of everything there, and through the winter I'll have beautiful memories … [I'll] show my friends pictures and say, yeah, I've been there, you guys have got to see it for yourself.

"You guys have a very special place here, in the North," he said. "Keep it that way for the generations to come."

Based on an interview by Lawrence Nayally, produced by Marc Winkler