Jimmy Johnny was born in a tent at his father’s wood-camp, four miles downriver from Mayo.
Until age six, his life was spent close to his parents, his uncles and aunts, and his grandparents. From them he gained knowledge about traditional ways of living. He helped with hunting and fishing in the summer and fall, and trapping in the winter — using two teams of dogs to traverse the trap-lines.
Then Johnny was sent to a residential school, where he and the other children were forbidden to speak Northern Tutchone. One day he was caught cooking a rabbit he had snared over an open fire; he was punished with a month-long indoor confinement.
Many of his early milestones occurred during the times he spent at home with his family. When he was nine years old his father guided him on a hunt for his first moose. A couple of years later he was skilled enough to hunt alone and he remembers his family’s pride when he came home to tell them that he had been successful — at the age of 11 he was already providing food for his family and neighbours.
When he was 13, Johnny was hired as a wrangler with the outfitter Louis Brown.
For three years, he had one of the hardest jobs in the outfitting business. The wrangler is responsible for the care of the horses, including rounding up the horses in the early morning, loading and unloading their packs, setting up camps and taking them down.
In 1958, at 16 years of age, Johnny first saw the country that would shape the course of his life.
The headwaters of the Bonnet-Plume, the Snake, and the Stewart Rivers of the Peel River Watershed had for centuries been important as hunting grounds, and Johnny felt a deep connection to the beauty and space of the area.
He began a career as a hunting guide that would continue until 2010. Over those 52 years, Johnny worked for several different outfitters in the area, and developed a thorough knowledge of the terrain that made him one of the most well respected guides in the territory.
His fascination with wildlife led to a life-long interest in photography.
Whenever possible he carries a camera to capture both still photos and film footage. In 2011, he created a short film called Back Country Pictures, which appeared in the Dawson City International Film Festival in 2012.
Now Johnny is interested in educating and speaking out about the protection of his beloved Peel Watershed.
“Especially the water, I want to see it protected,” he says. “If it wasn’t for the water, we wouldn’t be here talking to each other.”