Tsiigehtchic, N.W.T., elder wants government to solve drainage problem near cabin

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Tsiigehtchic, N.W.T., elder wants government to solve drainage problem near cabin

Every day, 81-year-old George Niditchie Sr. goes out and chips away at ice surrounding the cabin he's living in.

The area where Niditchie Sr. has had his fish camp for nearly 60 years is right across the river from Tsiigehtchic, N.W.T. It's known to everyone as "Georgetown," near km 141 of the Dempster Highway.

He blames frozen, blocked culverts on the highway for sending water drainage his way.

He spends his winters using different tools from a shovel to an axe, to chip at the ice and try and make a path that will divert the water.

Niditchie Sr. says that a machine used to be sent from Fort McPherson to help him clear the ice but now he is back to doing it himself by hand.

He says if he wasn't stubborn "everything would be under water."

A deep connection

Officially, George Niditchie Sr. is a resident at the elders' home in Tsiigehtchic, but he prefers to live in Georgetown.  

Gwichya Gwich'in Council President Grace Blake says Niditchie has a deep connection to the place. 

"It's just like a farmer or anybody else. They didn't buy that land, but they've lived there for... years. So they feel like it's their territory."

In the summers, Grace Blake says Niditchie goes fishing in Georgetown and sets up a tent.

"He's very capable of doing those things and he still wants to be allowed to do those things."

Mackenzie Delta MLA Frederick Blake Jr. and Gwichya Gwich'in Chief Phillip Blake say the problem is with the culverts on the highway, and a change made in the last 15 years. 

"It impacted the flow from the north to the south side of the highway, and it affects the people living in Georgetown," says Phillip Blake.

MLA Frederick Blake says this year, the Department of Transportation has said it's over budget and has no funds available to help with the ice.

"It wouldn't take very much to get a backhoe in there to make a berm or trench it out so that the water keeps flowing past the camps there into the creek…That's what I tried to tell the minister. At the most it would take maybe $10,000 to do that."

He says he's been telling the department for years that they should put a heat trace in the culvert, which he says they do in Yukon. 

'We tried to address that problem and thought it was over'

Merle Carpenter, regional superintendent of transportation, says the department has tried to help Niditchie over the years, but now has to draw the line.

He says Niditchie built a log house in early 2000, funded by N.W.T. Housing Corporation, on a floodplain.

"This is a large natural drainage system that is subject to accumulation of ice and slush in the winter and the house now is being affected by the flooding," Carpenter says.

He says for several years, the Department of Transportation tried to help with dealing with ice and water, but the strategies weren't working, so in 2009, the Housing Corporation provided a parcel of land and funding to move Niditchie's log house half a kilometre away up the hill.

"We suggested it be moved elsewhere; he wanted it there," says Carpenter. "We didn't move it there. He moved it with the community."

Now Niditchie says the ice and water flow can be so bad that he can't get to his relocated house.   

Carpenter says George Niditchie Jr. built another cabin on the floodplain in 2015.

"We tried to address that problem and thought it was over," says Carpenter.

"People can build houses wherever they wish along the highway, I guess, and in this case George Jr. decided to construct a cabin on the exact same spot."

He said it's his understanding that Niditchie Sr. lives in the elders home in Tsiigehtchic and that the cabin is not being inhabited full time. 

He said the department's priority is maintaining the Dempster Highway for the safety of people using the highway. He said it's expected that every winter culverts will freeze and water will drain following the natural slope of the highway.

"Mr. Niditchie Jr. has decided to build on a floodplain and we can't assist anymore. It has to be resolved by other means," he says.

"We are a public-funded organization and we have to be cognizant of how we spend our dollars and throwing money on a problem that happens every year... and Mr. Niditchie Jr. is well aware that this was an issue. Perhaps you could ask Mr. Niditchie why he chose to build a cabin where there's been issues over the last decade."

Meanwhile Niditchie Sr. says he is hoping that the government will come to Georgetown and realize the severity of what he's dealing with.

"I try to get help but they say no money, no money...

"They have got to see it [in person]. They just... look at the pictures and don't believe it."