The Gwichya Gwich'in
(more images)

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 the fish 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.

The Holy Name of Mary Mission at Tsiigehtchic
Making Dry Fish at Tree River