When Alexander Mackenzie travelled among the Gwich'in in 1789, he found
them along the banks of the Mackenzie River fishing with willow root nets and smoking
in spruce bough-covered smoke houses. Today the
nets are made of nylon and the smoke houses are canvas-covered
but fishing is still a major source of food.
Marca Bulloch (née Andre) still returns
to the mouth of Tree River, a tributary of the Mackenzie River, to net
and smoke Cony (Inconnu). Her family has been fishing here
every summer for generations.
Along with a broad range of fish, small and medium-sized mammals and
migratory waterfowl, a very important element of the diet and indeed of the
Gwich'in way of life, was caribou. Although the local caribou population dwindled in the 40's
and 50's, their numbers have recovered well, as shown by the caribou
antler racks on this stage at Albert Adams' Tenlen Lake camp.
Examples of old style
tools used until the recent past: caribou bone
fleshers (below right) and beamers (below left) used to cleaning
caribou or moose hides prior to tanning, and stone scrapers (left) also used in
the preparation of hides for leather making.
Archaeological excavations at the "Flats" in front of the
community of Tsiigehtchic have shown that people have fished
seasonally here for more
than 14 centuries. Elders recount how people gathered in the summer
for social activities which were always welcomed after
the long seclusion of winter. (Photo: J.L. Robinson/Public Archives of Canada)
From a traditional
gathering place, Oblate missionaries soon visited the Gwich'in at the mouth
of the Tsiigehnjik (the Arctic Red River). Eventually the catholic mission from Fort MacPherson
moved here, creating a small nucleus around which the Hudson's Bay Company
and Royal Canadian Mounted Police soon also established themselves. Here
we see Father Lécuyer (center) surrounded by Gwich'in at Tsiigehtchic sometime prior
to 1920 (taken from Aux Glaces Polaires, Indiens et Esquimaux. Duchaussois 1921).
The Gwichya Gwich'in settlement of Tsiigehtchic at the
confluence of the Arctic Red River (Tsiigehnjik) and the Mackenzie River.