Issue: 2015-04-23 PHOTO: courtesy Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation
For the Vuntut Gwitchin, Crow Flat is their “bank”
The sun is back and the days are warmer, except in the late evenings.
People of Old Crow used to be excited about going to Crow Flat. People used to leave after Easter Monday. Preparations were done, with essentials packed to trap muskrats and shelter equipment. Only essential groceries were bought. People mostly traveled by dog team.
People prepared their toboggan loads and waited until the snow froze. Families were excited and dogs barked. Finally it was time to hitch up the dogs. By now it would almost be midnight. Some people travel for hours before they reach their destination.
Tired and hungry, but people were patient. The place for tents had to be shoveled and poles cut for tents. There were branches to set, stoves to set, and wood to cut. Snow melted to make hot tea. Down for bed. By now it could be fi ve or six in the morning.
All the fresh air, tired from traveling all day — people move about only to rest more and enjoy the sounds of the land. Then men are excited to begin their spring muskrat trapping. The whole day is spent out setting traps. The women stay at camp and collect wood and melt snow. There are many chores to do. If children are with the parents the boys usually go out with the men, learning their traditional way of life and learning about their camp surroundings.
Muskrats caught are skinned and stretched then hung to dry. Strings of 15 to 20 muskrat hung outdoors or indoors for safekeeping.
An Elder once said, “Crow Flat is our bank.” So true. The women clean and wash the carcasses and cook for dinner. Boiled or roasted. Some families clean and wash muskrat carcasses and dry for later to soak and eat when food is scarce. Suddenly someone notices caribou. Another camp excitement. Killed Caribou is mostly dried and stored to keep meat fresh. Snow is the storage but when snow is melted it gets complicated.
Now it’s time to move to Crow River, another exciting time. Dogs and toboggans are used to take loads to the river. Many trips are made. Women and children walk. Camp by river and finally boat arrivals.
The boat is loaded with dogs, toboggans, families, muskrat pelts, and caribou dry meat. Some people travel for eight to 10 hours down Crow River. Lots of excitement when people arrive back in Old Crow. People hugging, laughing. So happy to see their family return from Crow Flat.