Ganiluhnatan - To Teach One Another
March 07, 2019
“Ugh I really underestimated how chilly it would be on the river today,” I thought as I sat in the front of the boat. Uudì’ is downriver in Gwich’in. Juk drin uudì’ da’an gwats’at hiisha’; meaning, today I am going downriver. We are traveling downriver to Abraham Stewart’s camp, for the summer Whitefish study, with Emma and Rachel. I have not dressed appropriately for this weather. The overcast cast a grey hue on all the land, and the slight wind really takes its toll; warm pockets of air come every now and again where the sun manages to break through the clouds. This is one of the three camps we plan to visit for the next week. Sitting in the front of the boat, a bit cold, then there is a sigh of relief once I see the turn in the river where Abe’s camp is located.
I grew up spending my summers upriver from McPherson and its quite different from downriver, so I always have this anxious feeling when I come down here. For one, the river is more narrow compared to upriver, and it is a lot more dense with the willows and trees. When we arrive at the camp there are bear paws printed in the mud on the side of the cabin, so, yes, I feel nervous coming down here. Working for the Gwich’in Tribal Council Department of Cultural Heritage does have its benefits. Most of the summer I attend meetings, conduct interviews, enter data into catalogues, but this, this is what I enjoy the most about my summer job. When I get to go out to the fish camps, and the scientific research of taking samples and lab work and traditional knowledge of catching and cutting fish, merges together. I enjoy seeing the different methods of how people go about fishing, how they check the net, how they cut the fish, and dry the fish. Ultimately it ends with the person hanging the fish to dry, but how they each do it is interesting, the subtle differences of catching and cutting the fish, and how they talk of who taught them.
I stand by the river admiring the beauty of it; the beauty washes away the anxiety. Walking back up the bank I catch Abe and the researchers preparing to take samples “Can’t miss that!” Abe carefully takes the measurement, the weight, samples of tissues, and the otoliths, little ear bones inside the fish’s head. Strange to think that all these samples can tell you where the fish has been, how old it is, and a plethora of other information. How they go about finding out this information is beyond my knowledge, I cannot grasp the idea of how scientist go about using lab techniques to find out all this, it is beyond my knowledge, which is why I choose to study culture. Through the teachings of oral history and the information I gather from elders, I can look back into time to learn about the daily life of my ancestors, and compare that to today. Such an interesting aspect of the Gwich’in, time changes how you perform task such as checking the net, but the method of cutting the fish has stayed the same for generations.
I believe that this is my second summer out here at these fish camps. I have learned various techniques of cutting fish, learned how each person sets their net, and learn how to take samples from the whitefish, scientific methods of field work. The saying, time flies when you are having fun, is cheesy and yet true to an extent. For it feels like we just landed the boat and carried all of our things up the bank, blinked our eyes once, and then we are already in that boat going to the next camp. “Juk drin deedhoh goonlih gwats’at hiisha’.”
Arlyn Charlie showing Rachel Hovel how to cut and dry fish properly.
Arlyn Charlie boating down river to Abe Stewart's camp.
Arlyn Charlie and his Jiju, Mary Effie Snowshoe, at Mary's camp up the Peel River. Whitefish strips hang to dry.