Tulita's chief says the Sahtu region needs a healing lodge to prepare for the addiction issues that could come from a long awaited all-season road.
At the Sahtu Secretariat annual general meeting in Tulita on Thursday, Chief Frank Andrew asked Danny McNeely, Sahtu MLA, if he would support the project in anticipation of the road, which is still likely over a decade away from becoming a reality.
"We need your support on that because the Sahtu want to get ready for the highway," he said.
"Because when the road comes, it's gonna impact our young people."
Andrew said the planned road, which would be a new section of the Mackenzie Valley Highway, will create risks including easier access to drugs and alcohol. This was also a fear in Whatì, a Tłı̨chǫ community that became accessible year round in 2021.
He said a healing lodge in the region that could help people with addiction issues is a way to be prepared for those dangers.
McNeely responded by saying that is a priority for him, and added it is high on the list of all 19 members of the Legislative Assembly.
"I don't think we're going to be short on support for on-the-land healing lodge or treatment centre," he said.
McNeely also announced at the meeting that he plans to put his name forward for a seat in cabinet next week. This is his second term in office, serving from 2015 to 2019 as a regular MLA.
An idea discussed for decades
At the assembly, McNeely said the region is facing a lot of issues, which the Mackenzie Valley Highway could help lessen.
"Our people need jobs, we need to reduce the cost of living, of giving our region an affordable option to drive out ... go to Grande Prairie and pickup some groceries," he said.
"So there's lots of benefits from having that road as well as a lot of concerns."
The Mackenzie Valley Highway is an idea that has been discussed for decades by successive territorial governments, with the idea first being discussed in the late 1950s.
The latest iteration of the project is a 281 kilometre road that and would run from Hodgson Creek (about one kilometre north of Wrigley) to Prohibition Creek (about 28 kilometres southeast of Norman Wells).
The most optimistic scenario would see 281 kilometres of permanent highway complete by 2037.
The highway would largely follow the existing winter road route as well as the construction of the Great Bear River bridge near Tulita, a delayed infrastructure project.
The 486-metre-long bridge over the Great Bear River was to begin this winter, but is now being postponed until next winter.