This is a photo of my Jijuu (grandmother) Mary Effie Snowshoe, standing above a successful caribou harvest. The meat pictured here was harvested by several youth and cooked at a community feast for the elders, after many years of having a shortage of caribou in the North.
This is caribou meat, the Gwich’in people call it “vadzaih nilii”. The caribou are an integral part of our history and our identity as Gwich’in people. They fed us, clothed us, sheltered us – basically providing every need to survive life in the North.
This is a self-portrait of my daughter and I, taken just after she was brought into this world. She was born with the purest heart, full of love and innocence. As we all know, residential school took away so much from us Indigenous people, including how to be a healthy parent. We still carry the intergenerational trauma with us, and many of us are still struggling with overcoming the addictions and negative coping mechanisms that came along with the pain and suffering. But, this is where it stops. I want to raise my daughter in a sober home, where she is always safe and taken care of. I want to teach her not only to survive, but to thrive. Just like the generational trauma that runs in our blood, so does resiliency.
Land-based learning is a whole different learning experience for Indigenous students, bridging both cultural and academic knowledge. In order for us to survive in today’s world, we need both to succeed. It is important that we stay connected to our roots and practice our traditions, but it is also important that we become educated. Education is power. This is a photo of students learning about traditional medicine from my Jijuu Mary Snowshoe up the Peel River at our family fish camp.
In many Indigenous cultures there are customs that have been developed where the women aren’t allowed to participate in ceremonies and events, like hand games and drumming. I believe that these are concepts adapted through the many years of colonialism and patriarchy forced upon Indigenous people. Here is a photo of a female elder and a young man playing hand games together, side by side as equals, as well as both a man and woman drumming behind them. It is believed that when a women is playing hand games, that she carries bad luck with her… but these two ended up winning the whole game together.
This is water from the fresh water creek located at my Jijuu’s (grandmother’s) fish camp. We use this fresh water source for everything like drinking, cooking, bathing and washing our clothes. It is a well-known fact that most of the world’s fresh water sources are depleting, with the majority of what is left being in the Yukon and Northwest Territories. It makes me so happy when I return to our camp to find the creek still running. We must protect what is left of our fresh water sources on Mother Earth.
There is no cleaner energy than the natural resources that were provided by our Mother Earth to use in a respectful manner. The fire – a powerful entity can either make or break us. It could be the saving grace that keeps us warm and cooks our food or it could burn us to the ground. The fire represents strength and resiliency.
This is the Fort McPherson Tent & Canvas Shop which has been around since the 1970s that employs 17 producers, including Calvin Francis (in photo), who has been working there for over 20 years. The shop produces high quality hand made items like tents, gun cases, hunting bags, etc. that are made for the tough life of the Arctic.
One of the major setbacks and inconveniences of living in the North is the isolation of many communities. Our community of Fort McPherson is isolated twice a year; in the fall when the river is freezing up and the ice road forms, and in the spring when it is breaking up and moving. This photo showcases the inevitable isolation that is about to bestow upon our region with the coming spring.
Here is an empty playground outside of what used to be the local day care. This is the only childcare building in town, and has been shut down for a few years, leaving new or working mothers with no option for childcare services.
Life on the land is the most sustainable way of living; it is the only way to live without further hurting our Mother Earth. Here is a photo of the kitchen at my family’s fish camp. It is packed with wood that we use to heat our home, cook our food and smoke the fish. There is the fire that we cook on; it helps to provide for our family. There are the fish strips that are drying, almost ready to be brought back home to feed the rest of our family. It also provides shelter on rainy days. The traditional Gwich’in lifestyle was to survive from the land while providing for the family. One of the main lessons that we are taught is to always be respectful, protect and give back to the land. This is an important concept that should be adapted by the rest of the world, to save and protect our Mother Earth.
Responsible consumption and production of food is another major issue that affects the world. Half the world is starving and the rest are trying to lose weight. Here is a photo of dry fish hanging at our fish camp; once they are completely dry they will be sent back to town to be shared with the rest of our family. It is so unnecessary for anyone to go hungry; there is enough for everyone.
Climate change is a scary and extremely destructive reality of life in today’s world. Here is a photo of my Jijuu’s fish camp, untouched and pristine in every way. The land is clean, trees grow strong, the river flows and is abundant with fish. As the years pass, we notice changes in the weather, temperature, migrating and mating animal patterns, water levels - the list goes on and on. Who knows how climate change will ultimately and permanently affect all of this if we don’t start making some major changes?
A photo of my Jijuu, pulling a jack fish from her net set on the Peel River. While at fish camp, my Jijuu wakes up each day around 6:00 AM to check her net, then several times throughout the day, and one last time before she goes to bed around 1:00AM. She has been fishing every single summer since she was born, catching and cutting thousands of fish in her lifetime. Just as the caribou are bound to our identity, so are the fish.
Life on the land can often be a struggle because of the hostile temperatures and scarcity of animals in the winter. But there are times when the land provides what is needed. In this photo, the hunters are working together as a team to butcher the meat for the community feast. The meat was shared with all, just as it was intended to be.
Photo of a Gwich’in woman leading the youth in a walk to welcome home paddlers from a canoe trip. The main initiative behind it all is to PROTECT THE PEEL. The Peel River runs through our community of Fort McPherson and is connected to many other river systems in the Yukon and Northwest Territories. Even the youth holding up the signs understand the importance of our river systems, not only to sustain us as humans but for the overall quality of life. We need to protect our land and environments for our future generations to come.
This photo captures three people working together to build a campfire. Yes, this is a task that could have been completed by one person. But, together the work was completed quicker and instilled strong leadership qualities within those involved. One person is splitting wood for kindling, the middleman just finished stacking the wood perfectly for the other to light the match and start the fire. This is how partnerships should be – each person sharing the responsibility and helping each other get to where they need to be in order to succeed.