“It felt like home” is what Sophia Flather says of the first summer she lived in Old Crow. While working as a summer student there in the heritage department, she visited the Vuntut National Park and had the experience of seeing a group of five to 10 thousand caribou.
“It was pretty powerful,” she says.
Born and raised in Whitehorse, Sophia had visited Old Crow, where she has family, before, but moved there to stay nearly two years ago.
She made the decision after living down south for a few years and studying at the University of British Columbia.
Though her specialisation was in math, Sophia also focused on First Nations studies and the content of which made her long to be back home in the north.
“It made so much sense to me in the things I was struggling with and that I cared about,” she says of some of the topics they covered.
In Old Crow, Sophia works part-time at the bank, but spends much of her free time learning traditional practices. She is particularly interested in working skins.
“Anyway I could, I was trying to learn,” she says.
She loves both the individual and community aspects of the process, as she hasn’t had just one teacher; many members of the community have shared their knowledge with her about tanning hides and have supported her in the endeavour to learn more.
She says there are about five different ways to practice each step of the process and she would have to pick which way made the most sense to her. The practice and the passing-on of the Gwich’in lifestyle is something that Sophia is very passionate about. “Kids are always asking about the skins,” she says.
She thinks it’s great to have them help her and to see the skill being practiced as a normal part of life.
When asked how she sees her own role in the community, she says, “I really recognise that, having lived here for almost two years, I’m pretty new to the Old Crow community.”
However, she also sees some similarities between life in Old Crow and Whitehorse. “Everything starts with yourself. To be part of a healthy community you have to be healthy in yourself. I try to be responsible for myself.”
She sees the importance in trying to help out in any way she can, to keep learning, and to be someone that people will want to have around.
The women who she finds the most inspiring seem to be the ones she sees in action every day.
“I feel like I’m surrounded by amazing women,” Sophia says, reflecting on her mother, sister, friends and Old Crow elder Fanny Charlie.
Her mother, Patti Flather, is co-founder and managing artistic director of Gwaandak Theatre in Whitehorse. Sophia describes her mother as “incredibly kind,” a woman who “works hard for something she believes in.” Sophia is inspired by the way her mother uses theatre to support indigenous and marginalized voices.
Sophia also finds inspiration in Fanny Charlie’s skill and resilience. Among her many accomplishments, Charlie has given birth to 17 children in Old Crow, she used to have her own dog team and she still tans around 20 hides in a year .
“You can’t even understand that kind of strength” Sophia says.
Sophia gave Charlie one of the first skins she’d worked, to which Fanny said, “Now you’re going to do that your whole life.”
“I hope so,” Sophia reflects, but even if she doesn’t constantly practice it, she knows that it will be a skill that always stays with her. “I’m still learning, always learning.”