Growing Up Gwich’in

Editor’s Note: When Jason Westover visited Elizabeth Kaye recently, he suggested he would love to know more about her life besides her passion for moccasin-making. This inspired her to write the following article at the family camp down-river of Old Crow.

As a Gwich’in child I lived a nomadic lifestyle in the Northwest Territories since a child. My parents were elderly, truly living with the season. The only life they know which naturally were passed on.

My family all lived together moving from one location as the season changed.

In the coldest of winter in January, in the New Year’s my family moved with dog team of three to the mountains to harvest the Porcupine caribou. They settle where there was caribou.

Many people travelled together. The men went out hunting, brought caribou and the women took charge. The women cut up meat to make dried meat, pemmican and bone grease. Cut meat for future use. Took hair off skin and use these skins to store meat.

All parts of caribou was used. The legs were skinned to make boats. The muscles were jelled. The caribou head hanging by stove all day to be roasted, delicious at suppers. The brains were kept to tan skins in the future.

I recall my life then was the best. I was in harmony with my surroundings.

Returned to Fort McPherson N.W.T for Easter celebration, feast and dancing, people coming together, lots of sharing and stories, the love and care and kindness shared by all.

Spring has sprung! The town becomes noisy with dogs barking! Everyone moves to spring camp for muskrat trapping. How exciting to come again to the camp where so many fond memories of fun time. Everyone is again busy as muskrat skins bring in your finance for the coming summer.

Summer approaches and we now move on to our fishing area. My family summered at the mouth of the Peel. On the Peel River, my family fished all summer drying fish.

My dad and brother set the nets, check the nets. My job was to pack fish every morning and every night. What a chore!

Come end of summer my dad made bales of fish to take to town. He even sold some bales of fish to Hudson Bay Co. With the money more groceries were bought.

Fall come, and now we move further down river to ice fish nets under ice, set snares for rabbits and trapping season began.

Many nights we played outdoors with other neighbours children. Sled down the steep bank in the moonlight. I recall walking along with groups of children to another family’s home which was about two hours away. What fun that was, never fearing of anything. We took care of each other.

We stayed in the area until Christmas. My sister and mom made us new boots, mitts and parka to go to town. We were so excited. My mom put my brother and myself in blanket in toboggan. I was so cozy.

Occasionally my sister would say Geh! Geh! and dogs would move fast. She was saying Rabbit Rabbit. I could hear excitement in her voice.

Now that I’m an elder I can go back out on the land. This is my true paradise. My husband, my son, live at Blue Bluff on the Porcupine River.

We always enjoy visitors although we are busy, we do stop to chat and enjoy a good cup of tea. This is my passion and I truly lived it to the fullest.

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