From July 21 to July 25, Old Crow had the distinction of hosting The Biennial Gwich’in Gathering (BGG), an event that began in 1988 in Arctic Village, Alaska.
The gathering serves as a meeting place for the Vun-Tut Gwich’in People to talk about the issues of the day, reflect on the past, discuss the future, and listen to the teachings of Elders.
The theme this year was Together Toward Tomorrow, which reflects a strong youth agenda:
“We were given several options, and we felt that the theme captured the present priorities that the Gwich’in nation was dealing with,” says Chief Joe Linklater. “We know that we need young people to move that forward.”
Chief Linklater adds that language and culture were heavy topics at the gathering: “We’ve lost many elders and their knowledge. We have managed to preserve some of that, but we need to find ways to reinvigorate the land.”
Old Crow had been abuzz for months in anticipation of the event.
“I’ve been planning since October of last year,” gathering coordinator Lorraine Netro recalls.
Organising the BGG was no small task, and Netro was grateful for the help:
“We’d like to acknowledge and thank the Yukon Government’s Community Development Fund for the upgrade of the arena for our meeting place and evening events,” she says.
Air North also played a pivotal role in providing services for the community, as did Old Crow’s many volunteers and Chief Zzeh Gittlit School, which helped feed 500 people per day all week long.
On the Monday of the gathering you could feel the excitement in the air as hundreds of Gwich’in visitors from the Yukon, NWT, and Alaska arrived. The gathering was kicked off with the arrival of the youth canoeists from Eagle Plains River.
The arena in Old Crow was converted into a venue for most activities, with a stage, walkway, and bleachers — all erected for the gathering.
The opening ceremonies were also celebrated with prayer, and a welcome from Chief Linklater and council. Darius Elias, MC and the MLA representing Old Crow, was on hand to greet everyone.
“It’s wonderful to see the strength of our Nation,” says Elias. “Looking at such a vibrant and healthy youth population gives us strength to do the work that I do. These gatherings reinforce that the Gwich’in light is bright and it will never go out.”
The week was geared toward the younger Gwich’in generation; youth workshops were held, new councils were formed, there was a youth talent show/fiddle dance, plus fashion shows, and theatre.
The gathering was also packed with a slew of guest speakers, forums, cultural discussions, and an abundance of friendly jigging.
Unfortunately, on the last day of the gathering, respected Old Crow Elder Donald Frost passed away in his home. It was a sombre moment for all Gwich’in and community.
Out of respect for the Frost family, the remaining meetings were cancelled.
Netro explains, “As is our tradition, we closed down the BGG meetings when we learned of the passing of our Elder. At the wishes of our Elder Donald Frost’s family, the whole Gwich’in Nation celebrated his life at the closing ceremonies.”
On Friday, a large breakfast at the school was served as visitors began their journey home. After a successful week of kinship, The Biennial Gwich’in Gathering was over, until the next host town fills its community with Gwich’in spirit and pride.