Land-based living memories collect along the Peel River and the wild waters of the Snake, Bonnet Plume, Wind, Hart, Blackstone, Ogilvie and Rat Rivers, and stir stories in Tetlit Gwich’in fish camps. They relate to the importance of a time before.
These memories pulse in and out of this country like energy giving blood, much enriched and purified by the lands and wildlife and ongoing skies above and clear water below. So it was with George Robert and his mother, Annie Robert, but also John Charlie Sr. at First Camp and many others who have come before and have now passed on.
Recently I uncovered a letter sent to me by George in January of 1984. He spoke of his time at Rock River and Island Camp and his mother’s storytelling.
A canoe group of us were treated to George’s fiddle playing and the stories about him learning to play in Fort MacPherson several years before. At that time we were on our way from Blackstone country to the Rat River and Old Crow and beyond.
On another trip down the Bonnet Plume River we stopped to visit at Island Camp and met Annie Robert. What an incredible privilege! She was 104 years old at the time and still coming out to visit with people canoeing the Peel River tributaries.
How many times had she and her family overwintered in the high Peel country? As a living testimony of traveling by foot and canoe and snowshoe and dog team through and living in this vast territory, she smiled at us and shook our hands, ever so lightly. She and others like her, First Nations men and woman and children, had gone before us at all times of year and lived lightly with the land.
We, in current times, need to better understand and to honour First Nation landscape experiences, perspectives and rights as they are witnessed in land claim agreements. The Peel planning commission’s report best approximates this respectful understanding and best honours our collective responsibilities to all First Nations, particularly those Tetlit Gwich’in elders, George and his mother, Annie Robert and John Charlie Sr.
As overly-consumptive societies we have assumed it is our collective right to abuse our natural landscape to support unrealistic economic wants while destroying wildlife and their habitat and the example of those few among us who lived lightly with the land.
These earlier examples of living in harmony with natural landscapes need to be carried forward and engendered into current land use plans, otherwise we significantly diminish all life.
Our grandmothers and grandfathers are looking down, expectantly, upon us!