Oral History

  1. “I remember the days when I was growing up. Dogs were very important to people … the people taught their dogs very well, how to carry packs in the summer and how to pull their leg-skin toboggans, or sleds, in the winter. You never had to tie your dogs. Everyone had two or three dogs. When you set up camp, the dogs stayed by their masters’ lodgings. They did not wander far … The lodges were made tepee style or else with moss. At that time in our history, the dogs listened very well to [their] master. The people depended on using them and to carry their belongings from place to place, so they looked after their dogs very well and … the dogs were very obedient to their master and did what their master told them. You visited, and there were dogs at the entrance of the lodge. Sometimes, they look at you, but they did not bark …”

    Mary Kendi, Ehdiitat Gwich’in Elder, July 17, 2000

  2. “The next thing I remember was we were once again moving. It was summer. Women, boys and girls were all packing. Dogs were packing stuff, too. Some small children who could not walk were being packed, and all the rest walked. The men were walking ahead hunting. Sometimes, the men would get a caribou or moose. At times, after camps had been made, boys and girls would go with dog packs to where caribou or moose was shot. Here they cut up the meat and packed it up for the dogs to take home. They also cut up meat suitable to be eaten and put it into their own packsacks then went home with the dogs. On some trips, I went along but did not do anything. I simply went along for a walk.

    One day, finally, somebody shot a small caribou. It was probably about six months to a year old, and I was told to go for it. They got me a dog with a dog pack, and I had to climb a small hill. There was only a few willows here and there. Shortly after climbing this hill, I came to the spot where the young caribou lay. I cut it all up like I saw others do, packed it all up and took it home. This was the first time I did this.”

    Bella Alexie, Teetł’it Gwich’in Elder, 1970s (“Early 1900s as I Remember It”)

  3. “The women were busy drying meat and also making dog packs for each dog. Dog packs were made from caribou-leg skins. The leg skins were soaked in water before sewing. When it was finished, it was stuffed with moss and dried, so it would be in shape, and trimmed with moose skin. The trace for the dog packs was cut from the edge of moose skin …

    Soon it was time to move again, and the women got everything packed and started moving the things. The things were packed in the dog packs and were strapped on the dogs. The woman would handle the dogs. She would also have a child on her back when we started travelling. We would also carry ridgepoles for the tents. If a dog had one heavy side pack, they would tie the pole on the light side to make it even. The poles would be dragged. Those days, dogs knew how to pack on their backs. They even packed pots and pans, which were tied to their packs. Sometimes, a dog would lose a pot or pan which was not tied on good.”

    Andrew Kunnizzi, Teetł’it Gwich’in Elder, 1970s

  4. “We just live on caribou, flour, oats and rice. That’s the most groceries we get from store. I was eight years old that time. Amos Njootli was preaching, minister at that time. We, we live at Rampart House, towards Crow Flat, through Flat Mountain, down that way. We spend fall time way back. We use dog pack all summer. When we kill caribou, dog pack it in. We pack meat, too, dry it and cache it, ground cache, eh? Where there’s loose rock at a place on the mountain, we take this big rock out and make a centre like. We put dry meat in there, skin, everything. This way we cache for winter. When we moved to another place for fall time, we get fresh meat for winter. Sometimes bear get there, he clean it up, he do that to lots of people.”

    Charlie Thomas, Vuntut Gwitchin Elder, 1997?

    (Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation Collection VG1997-08-03:018)